Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/30/monkey_brain_robot_weblink_boffin_race/

Boffins in live-monkey-brain robot weblink arms race

Mainly useful for banana-related tasks thus far

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 30th November 2007 11:17 GMT

Battling scientists around the world are racing to be first to develop practical robots remotely controlled by harvested monkey brains over the internet.

The Times of India reports scarcely 48 hours ago that a living "monkey head" in North Carolina was able to "control a pair of robot legs in Japan via a web link".

"The method is important as it holds hope for paralysed people to walk again via brain signals," notes the Times.

Yes - it's plainly better to walk around on a pair of powerful droid legs controlled by the bodiless head of a (presumably quite angry) monkey on the other side of the world.

But the Times scribes were behind on the scoop. The joint Duke University/Kyoto team which developed the North Carolina monkey-brain internet robot hookup were by no means alone in the field.

Earlier this month, ScienceDaily revealed that rival boffins at Pittsburgh U have developed even more sophisticated simian-operated mechanoids. Using the same method of inserting electrodes into a live primate brain, the Pittsburgh team were able to achieve control of an arm and gripping hand.

Thus far, what the brain-plug droid has mainly chosen to do is pick up enticing pieces of fruit and give them to its master controller.

Of course, one of the handicaps of using monkey brains to control robotics is the difficulty of achieving non-banana-related tasks. Other boffins are seemingly moving more toward the more traditional human-brain-in-transparent-bubbling-jar approach.

Clearly this presents problems as not everyone is willing to have their living brain removed - or even have electrodes implanted in it - no matter how significantly the cause of science is advanced. However, crafty boffins in Washington found a way round this.

According to ScienceDaily:

The scientists recorded the brain activity of... patients in which electrodes were placed over the surface of their brain for reasons that were not connected to the purpose of the study.

Having happily found some people who had electrodes drilled into their heads anyway, the boffins were able to do some excellent experiments, apparently.

"This access provided us with insights that could not be obtained using other methods," one of them said, in understated style.

Other teams using monkeys are active in Chicago, and still others using "electrode caps" elsewhere. More amazing revelations can be expected soon.

It appears that futurologists have been too limited in their ideas. The human race of the future will be wiped out in an orgy of violence (and/or enslaved, farmed for our meat etc.) not by rebellious monkey butlers or revolting robots, but rather by an unholy Robocop-gone-bad-style combination of the two. Only the disembodied brains in jars and their opposing machine army can save us now. ®