Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rats Can be Trained as Soldiers Too

The rat brain is a highly effective survival tool. Rats can learn to navigate complex maizes, can be taught to respond to complex sequences of stimuli, and now can learn to target a robot arm with a high degree of precision. How much longer before rats can target projectile weapons and detonate command mines and booby traps?
Fitted with tiny electrodes in their brains to capture signals for the computer to unravel, three rats were taught to move a robotic arm toward a target with just their thoughts. Each time they succeeded, the rats were rewarded with a drop of water.

The computer's goal, on the other hand, was to earn as many points as possible, Sanchez said. The closer a rat moved the arm to the target, the more points the computer received, giving it incentive to determine which brain signals lead to the most rewards, making the process more efficient for the rat. The researchers conducted several tests with the rats, requiring them to hit targets that were farther and farther away. Despite this increasing difficulty, the rats completed the tasks more efficiently over time and did so at a significantly higher rate than if they had just aimed correctly by chance, Sanchez said.

"We think this dialogue with a goal is how we can make these systems evolve over time," Sanchez said. "We want these devices to grow with the user. (Also) we want users to be able to experience new scenarios and be able to control the device."

Dawn Taylor, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, said the results of the study add a new dimension to brain-machine interface research. That UF researchers were able to train rats to use the robotic arm and then obtain significant results from animals lacking the mental prowess of primates or humans is also impressive, she said. _Source
This type of research is meant to develop into human research, of course, to help paralysed and disabled humans to learn to manipulate prosthetic arms and other aspects of their environment, mentally. Such goals are quite worthwhile and should be pursued. Sophisticated brain implants will learn to adapt to an individual's unique intra-brain communication signaling -- it will self-customise itself to fit each person whose brain it finds itself within.

But the rat brain is far more capable of precise, real time adaptive behaviour in the real world than any human-made computer of such small size. In combat, a brain implant equipped rat could create total mayhem within the ranks of an opposing military, given the proper weapons and munitions. Will such rodent warriors take the form of Cyborgs or Grobycs? It depends upon the approach of their developers. Either way, such four legged commandos could pack quite a wallop.

Monday, March 09, 2009

President Obama's Brave New Brain Implant

Image Source
Barak Obama's addiction to the teleprompter is becoming a sore point with White House insiders. Not the addiction itself, but rather the fact that people are beginning to notice. In fact, Mr. Obama cannot give a simple four minute announcement without spoon-feeding from a teleprompter.

This unseemly dependency has prompted White House aides to pursue a less conspicuous way of feeding the president his lines. That is how the idea of a brain implant for Mr. Obama came up in conference recently. Caught between a rock (Mr. Obama's inability to speak publicly without prompting) and a hard place (the fact that Mr. Obama's handicap is being noticed beyond deniability), the White House Office of Perpetual Campaigning is considering the technology option. The only question now seems to be, "how to do it?"

A bionic eye implant may seem at first glance a plausible plan. But a few moment's thought should make it obvious that the "camera glasses" Mr. Obama would have to wear to make the bionic eyes work would be an unsightly obstacle to the president's facial expression magic.

When faced with the shortcomings of plan A, one White House counsel suggested a brain implant without the glasses. But there was the problem of how the implant would receive the signal transmitting the president's speech to his brain. Would he wear an antenna on his head? "No," scoffed another aide, "The president's hair is too short to conceal an antenna and power supply for the implant."

"Then what about using an implant that uses photoelectrodes instead of electrical signals? You could covertly beam the speech to an array of fiberoptics cunningly concealed in the president's hair!" yet another aide enthused.

"I've got a better idea," interjected Rahm Emanuel over the intercom. "How about using a focused ultrasonic brain stimulator? You wouldn't need any kind of receiver or antenna then!"

Everyone turned to look at the only scientist in the group, a neuropsychologist on loan from MIT. What did he suggest? "Well, there have been some embarrassing side effects from brain implants in the past. If the president started to ... you know ... in the middle of a State of the Union Address, or in high level talks with the Chinese Premier ... "

For a moment, there was only silence in the room as White House aides contemplated the enormous risks of their mission. Then, over the intercom came the voice of WHCOS Emanuel: "we could always include a 'kill switch' in the device signal." The suggestion was greeted with gasps and moans. "No, no, not that kind of a kill switch. Just a type of 'reset switch' that causes him to lose consciousness temporarily so that a medical team can rush him out, in case he starts to do something too embarassing."

With that explanation, the tension blew out of the room as from a runaway balloon. They were all in agreement, it would be done. Just how it would be done, and who could be trusted to do it secretly was another matter, for another conference. But that is how government works. That is just how government works.

First published at Al Fin

Obama on Verge of Nervous Breakdown!!!

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president's surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

"Obama is overwhelmed. There is a .... tension between his ability to attend to the economic issues and his ability to be a proactive sculptor of the national security agenda.

"That was the gamble these guys made at the front end of this presidency and I think they're finding it a hard thing to do everything." Telegraph
The simple fact is that Barak Obama was not prepared to be US President. He was not prepared to be US Senator, for that matter, but in the Senate a member can spend most of his time running for president -- occasionally sparing the time to vote "present" on important issues -- and still be considered a US Senator in good standing. A president is expected to stay on top of things, and to actually ... you know ... make decisions.

Up to this point, Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel have been making almost all of the decisions for Mr. Obama. Obama makes decisions about vacations, parties, eating out, and setting the thermostat near 80 degrees F. Or perhaps Michelle makes those decision -- who knows?

White House insiders say Obama may not be getting enough sleep. What -- twelve hours a night is not enough? Perhaps a bit of modafinil might help, but I suspect that a nice long vacation is what the president really needs. Say, a forty year vacation in Hawaii? Perhaps he could run for president of the Honolulu Marxist Association? That might suit him to a tee.

Image h/t Rob's No Bull Zone

First published at Al Fin