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Rat Drive

April 22, 2007

It was in a festival where I saw a documentary that scared the hell out of me. “The Cyborg Revolution” [1] describes advances in the field of…well, how can we connect living humans directly with computers. “Directly” means that the human-computer interface is not an external device such as keyboards and the like but rather sensors that detect nerve stimulations or electrodes directly sunk into brain.

Documentary proceeds to show a fair amount of cases where various patients have been treated with electronic device implants. For example a blind patient was able to actually see images by having his brain directly stimulated by a sophisticated electrode which is in turn was stimulated by a portable computer. Images captured through a camera adjusted at his glasses were being sent to the computer which processed them and sent signals up to the electrode inside patient’s brain. Electrical signals stimulated a special area of his brain and the outcome was visual stimulation (that is the patient actually was seeing).

Several other cases are presented like a treatment for Parkinson symptoms, moving robotic arms by thinking, treatment of depression and the list went on and on.

It seemed like a whole new array of treatments for conditions that otherwise required miracles to be healed is now at doctors disposal and the field hasn’t come of the ground yet.

Which is very good news…but half the story. Director left the best for the end.

It seems that this technology is far too promising to be left outside military use. So, we got to learn that military agencies invest heavy money funding research in the field and you can bet that it’s not about healing patients. The Japanese presenter lead us to a conference organized by the US research and development military agency (DARPA). There we caught glimpse of the real target. The super-soldier. I will never forget a young business woman speaking to the spectators about it. She was fierce, like she was on drugs or something. Even people in uniforms were less enthusiastic about the whole thing, which was…

…The super-soldier. Aiming and shooting just by thinking. Directly interconnected with huge amounts of information. A killing man-machine.

But still, that was not the whole picture.

Right after that, we got to a DARPA funded project where a proud professor couldn’t wait to show us how his team had connected a rat with a common laptop. Those freaks had sunk into rat’s brain electrodes and adjusted a base on its head. A wireless board was positioned on the base. Board was able to communicate with the laptop and sent down into rat’s brain stimulation according to the buttons that a proud team member was pushing on the screen. Signals were sent to rat’s brain part responsible for moving and more or less the proud team member was driving the rat like a toy car through a maze. Researchers claimed that whenever rat was going their way a stimuli was sent to the brain pleasure center, causing delightedness. Yet, my spouse, observed that rat always tried to turn the other way but it seemed like it pained it not to follow instructions. (Just like human super-soldiers sometimes will do.) Next we got to see the rat running through ruins with a camera adjusted on it’s head board, apparently looking for survivors. It was unclear whether such applications were the official target of the specific project.

Yet, the questions that arise are where do good applications stop and madness breaks in and how aware of the whole picture are scientists that contact similar research? In an era of diminishing personal freedoms and liberties, when all the hell is breaking loose, scientific responsibility is much more than publishing accurate papers about driving rats around mazes.

You could also ask Einstein on this, some days after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
cyborg_rat.jpg
Credits/Notes/etc:
1.“Cyborg Revolution, The“, Original title: Tachinaba Takashi Saizensen Houkokou: Cyborg Gijyutsu ga Jinrui wo Kaeru, Producer: Tatsuhiro Fujiki, Director: Tomoharu Okada / Naoko Omi, Japan 2005.
2. Image found here.

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5 comments

  1. Isn´t it always like this? Every advance is a two-edged sword.

    I am always amazed – and not in a positive way – how humans are always able to use practically everything destructively.

    We really should be ashamed of ourselves.

    An important post!


  2. hey dude

    I see you’re still in good shape

    How you been doing

    I’m not going to comment anything on your posr cause i know hardly anything about what you re talking about

    Just happy to see you again after long time

    I’m back into business with a new blog where i’d be glad if you dropped by from time to time for a “kalorizika” or a hello

    I know you belong to another blogosphere but i kind of felt nostalgic about the good old days when I accidentally come across your blog and said nonsense about Greece on the belief that you were an american


  3. @ Allan: Me too dear Allan. Now and then the situation brings in my mind the image of a stupid kid that plays in a mine field. How long can its luck last?

    Thank you for your nice words.

    @ Mountzouri: Mountzouri! Where the hell have you been man? I’m happy we meet again :). Thanks a lot for coming by. Hope I’m not too boring in my new outfit. Your new blog is allready opened in the background so you’ll hear from me.

    Btw: The image was added after your commends were comitted. This is something I don’t usually do (that is post-edititing something after people have commented it). Sorry for that. From now on such volatile posts will be marked as DRAFT so as to inform that they’re still in progress. Either way if there is a problem with such a situation you can ask me to delete your comment which I’ll promptly do. (OK, I know YOU won’t have any problem but I want to be clear to everyone else also.)

    Thank you both for dropping by, pals.


  4. I think I have to ask myself what I’m going to do after studying… I haven’t thought of this “Man uses everything to destroy something”-mentality for a long time, so I didn’t see that it may affect my future, because I want to do researches in some biological areas.
    Anyway, thanks for reminding me to be careful!


  5. I’m quite sure that you’re going to use your knowledge wisely dear Sarah. Point is whether you’ll be given the chance to do so.

    I’m afraid that as long as science is bound to private and army research funds, it won’t work towards making a better world.



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