Why Rise of the Machines?
The military side will use the data from brain machine interfaces like this to develop algorithms for their killer robots.
Remember the one from 2004, about the rat neurons that learned to control a simulated aircraft?
A University of Florida scientist has grown a living “brain” that can fly a simulated plane, giving scientists a novel way to observe how brain cells function as a network.
The “brain” — a collection of 25,000 living neurons, or nerve cells, taken from a rat’s brain and cultured inside a glass dish — gives scientists a unique real-time window into the brain at the cellular level. By watching the brain cells interact, scientists hope to understand what causes neural disorders such as epilepsy and to determine noninvasive ways to intervene. As living computers, they may someday be used to fly small unmanned airplanes or handle tasks that are dangerous for humans, such as search-and-rescue missions or bomb damage assessments.
“We’re interested in studying how brains compute,” said Thomas DeMarse, the UF professor of biomedical engineering who designed the study. “If you think about your brain, and learning and the memory process, I can ask you questions about when you were 5 years old and you can retrieve information. That’s a tremendous capacity for memory. In fact, you perform fairly simple tasks that you would think a computer would easily be able to accomplish, but in fact it can’t.”
While computers are very fast at processing some kinds of information, they can’t approach the flexibility of the human brain, DeMarse said. In particular, brains can easily make certain kinds of computations – such as recognizing an unfamiliar piece of furniture as a table or a lamp – that are very difficult to program into today’s computers.
“If we can extract the rules of how these neural networks are doing computations like pattern recognition, we can apply that to create novel computing systems,” he said.
Ok, long story short, for those who don’t know what’s involved (technically, ethically, legally) with collecting that kind of data from a human being in vivo: It’s not easy. It’s really not easy.
So how will the killer robot designers scale up that meager swelling of rat neurons to gather data?
Primates? Sure. (And good answer if you guessed that.)
But read on.
A woman who is paralysed from the neck down has stunned doctors with her extraordinary skill at using a robotic arm that is controlled by her thoughts alone.
The 52-year-old patient, called Jan, lost the use of her limbs more than 10 years ago to a degenerative disease that damaged her spinal cord. The disruption to her nervous system was the equivalent to having a broken neck.
But in training sessions at Pittsburgh University, doctors found she quickly learned to make fluid movements with the brain-controlled robotic arm, reaching levels of performance never seen before.
Doctors recruited the woman to test a robotic arm that is controlled by a new kind of computer program that translates the natural brain activity used to move our limbs into commands to move the robotic arm.
The design is intended to make the robotic arm more intuitive for patients to use. Instead of having to think where to move the arm, a patient can simply focus on the goal, such as “pick up the ball”.
Several groups around the world are developing so-called brain-machine interfaces to control robotic arms and other devices, such as computers, but none has achieved such impressive results.
Writing in the Lancet, researchers said Jan was able to move the robotic arm back, forward, right, left, and up and down only two days into her training. Within weeks she could reach out, and change the position of the hand to pick up objects on a table, including cones, blocks and small balls, and put them down at another location.
“We were blown away by how fast she was able to acquire her skill, that was completely unexpected,” said Andrew Schwartz, professor of neurobiology at Pittsburgh University. “At the end of a good day, when she was making these beautiful movements, she was ecstatic.”
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