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Robot Controlled By Rat Brain 170

Posted by samzenpus
from the we're-gonna-need-a-smarter-trap dept.
kkleiner writes "Kevin Warwick, once a cyborg and still a researcher in cybernetics at the University of Reading, has been working on creating biological neural networks that can control machines. He and his team have taken the brain cells from rats, cultured them, and used them as the guidance control circuit for simple wheeled robots. Electrical impulses from the bot enter the batch of neurons, and responses from the cells are turned into commands for the device. The cells can form new connections, making the system a true learning machine."
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Robot Controlled By Rat Brain

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  • Re:Human brains? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by voss (52565) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:25AM (#33823044)

    However you would still be dead and some robot with cultured brain cells from your head would be walking around.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:29AM (#33823072)

    you can't ever control or predict learning machiens. That's the point of building a learing machien.

  • by 0olong (876791) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:37AM (#33823138)
    Are you saying a rat -or a human- is not a machine?
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:40AM (#33823160) Homepage Journal

    Here's [wikipedia.org] a rat cyborg who used to be our overlord. As to cyborgs, Warwick was never a cyborg. Implanting a chip that does nothing whatever doesn't make you a cyborg, but a pacemaker does. To be a cyborg you have to have a device implanted in your body that aids in the body's function; a pacemaker, an artificial hip or knee, a cochlear implant, an accomodating IOL, etc. Implanting a chip that does nothing is just stupid.

    Your grandma's probably a real cyborg.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:51AM (#33823260) Homepage

    I suppose that would depend on how you define and perceive "machine." After all, is a microprocessor a machine? How about RAM? How about programmable chips that can reconfigure themselves into various networks of transistors? Is it because there is biology instead of nano-construction involved? The reality is that we don't yet have technology that can match what naturally occurring neural networks can do... not yet. But by making use of these small samples, we can begin to interface with them and then start building our own after learning to work with them enough to predict their behaviors.

    In time, the rat brain cells will be replaced with something synthetic. Once that is done, will it then be a machine even when the functionality becomes identical?

  • Re:Human brains? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slim (1652) <john@nOspam.hartnup.net> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:56AM (#33823306) Homepage

    I suppose your reasoning is that if it works with cells from a rat's brain, it must have potential to work even better with cells from a human's brain, because humans are cleverer, right?

    The thing is, there's not much difference between a rat's neuron and a human neuron, and both are very simple. In essence, they accept signals on their dendrites, and if the signals reach some threshold, they fire a signal from their axon, which typically is connected to the dendrite of another neutron.

    I *guess* the advantage of using biological neurons instead of software or silicon is that it's easier to make/harvest vast quantities of them

    But I can't see that human cells would be any better than rat cells, and just imagine the ethical objections from the God Squad!

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:18AM (#33823524)
    Only if you consider that the radiator is controlling the thermostat. Feedback loop 101. The output is by definition not the controller. A circuit saying "You've bumped into something" may well involve a loop of its own, but by itself it does nothing towards altering that situation. The mouse cells decide that "You've hit something" is bad, and move the robot away, therefore the messaging to the rat is no more a controller in the loop than the radiator.
  • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:25AM (#33823606) Journal

    That's also what he got after 4 years of calling himself a cyborg and giving lectures on cyborg rights for having nothing more than a RFID chip under the skin. The one that actually interfaces with the nerves is also someone else's design.

    But the GP criticism IMHO still stands. There are people with more useful implants than Captain Cyborg, and more fitting the cyborg meaning, and some from long before him. The first pacemaker was implanted in 1960, though the first research into that started at the end of the 19'th century. That's a mix of biological and machine right there and it's from before waay before Warwick's PR stunts.

    And in the meantime we have stuff that's even better. E.g., CCD retina replacements interface with nerves too and do something more useful than Warwick's chip.

    Heck, studies in interfacing with neurons or sometimes directly with the brain have been happening since 1970. In 1999 someone managed to reproduce images seen by a cat, and in 2000 someone did exactly the trick of replicating arm movements for a monkey. That's actual neural interfacing research from the time when Captain Cyborg had just a RFID chip. His subsequent basically getting a similar chip to that in said monkey implanted in himself makes him at most an early human test subject, but nothing more than that.

  • by Niedi (1335165) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @10:23AM (#33824312)

    The cells are harvested from a rat foetus. They're grown in a special vessel, where they're in contact with an array of electrodes. They spontaneously arrange themselves into a neural network. The difficult part is training that network to do anything useful.

    Which is exactly why it is NOT wired to a rat brain. These are cultured cells, seperated and grown in culture. So it's rat NEURONS but not a rat's brain. Calling it a rat brain would be like calling a heap of randomly wired intel-made-transistors a core2duo.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2010 @11:00AM (#33824762)

    you don't get the point, I'm not stating a fact, just insinuating a doubt. There is no data at present to prove one or the other side. A living being could be cathegorized a machine or not, both propositions are acceptable and not deniable with present knowledge.

    It's the old argument about reductionism. It is still not been proved nor disproved. I do not believe nor don't believe in it, I like the argument so I like to thing that living beings are some king of organical machine That's it.

    Like all philosophical thought it is interesting but has no practical use :)

  • by FiloEleven (602040) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @12:27PM (#33825992)

    You are begging the question, "Is it possible for us to build a 'sufficiently complex machine', i.e. a machine as complex as a living organism?"

    Given that humans are the only living organisms that can build complex machines, and given that we're nowhere near creating machines that mimic even the lowly cell, much less anything more complex, there is nothing except for theoretical evidence to support the claim. And if you take a brief look into the history of psychology and the biology of the brain, a lot of that theoretical evidence comes up short because it's mostly espoused by computer scientists who are making claims outside of their area of expertise.

    So no, you don't have to believe in a non-physical soul to come to the conclusion that biological organisms are more than just machines. Just because you subscribe to reductionism doesn't mean it is the only way or the most accurate way to look at things.

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