Saturday, August 16, 2008

Scientists have created a robot controlled by a biological brain made of rat neurons

Shades of the late, great Arthur C. Clarke! In 1971 he published a short story titled "A Meeting With Medusa" in which the protagonist was a man who had suffered an accident which destroyed his body - but not his brain. He was "repaired" by having his brain housed in a manufactured inorganic body.

And well before 1971 there was the 1953 sci-fi/horror film "Donovan's Brain" in which Donovan's brain was kept alive and given means to communicate with the world outside his jar.

The movie was described as: "Yet another version of Curt Siodmak's novel about an honest scientist who keeps the brain of a ruthless dead millionaire (Donovan) alive in a tank. Donovan manages to impose his powerful will on the scientist, and uses him to murder his enemies."

The current research, of course, is benevolent. It's all intended to serve the "greater good," it's just the opening of an effort to provide the ultimate prosthesis for the terminally ill or badly injured person.

Sadly, perfecting the technology required in order to extend a person's life by providing a prosthetic body will require experimentation using apes, dogs or pigs to work out the required neural impulse amplification and distribution as well as learning how to keep the brain alive without a body or, presumably, an ailimentary tract.

With all due respect to the prejudices of those who believe that the Earth and everything on and in it as well as the entire universe was created in 6 days of 24 hours each in 4400 BC, this research has nothing to do with that.

If their point is that the GOD who scattered the people and confused their language because they offended by building a tower which they intended to extend to Heaven, might take a dim view of this line of experimentation, might see it as a sort of lese majeste and act accordingly - then I'd say one ought to steer clear of the area encompassing the laboratory - it's hard to guess how big an area HE will expunge should HE act.

Somehow, though, I find it pretty unlikely that GOD will punish those intrepid researchers in any kind of showy display, HE doesn't seem to do much of that anymore.

All levity aside now I, personally, am seriously concerned about the uses to which this technology is likely to be applied. I'm sure that the researchers performing the design and the work of this experiment are driven by a thirsting after knowledge and have in the backs of their minds nebulous ideas of the great boon to humanity which this technology could engender.

I look at this experiment and envision a couple of alternate scenarios which I feel are more likely to result from a success in this work.

1) Create a race of ape-brained slaves to do all the service work of mankind.
This would render all of us working-class humans redundant in the eyes of the "evil overlord" class and would result in most of us being allowed to starve to death so that the Earth's environment could be saved. Of course they would save some of the young women... For a while.
Think: "Brave New World"

2) Find a few human volunteers who would be willingly transplanted, or "disembodied". Naturally those "selfless" individuals would soon be freed from the researchers by the courts and guaranteed maintenance - at public expense, of course.

Free from the need to eek out a living as the masses must do the "bionic" people would soon become the "bionic class" and might feel that they had but little in common with the "meatbag" population.

Frankly, I am very worried about a future in which the moneyed classes have available to them a technology which would, possibly, allow one to extend his/her life far beyond bodily death and in which that self/same technology would permit the "manufacture" of a chattel workforce wholly dependent upon the owner for survival.

The only remaining impetus they (the super-class) would have for allowing us to live and to procreate would be the need for customers for their business interests and I'm pretty certain that they would find a way not to have to put up with us at all.

The original article:

14 August 2008 09:31 am ET

Scientists have created a robot controlled by a biological brain made of rat neurons.

The robot, named Gordon, is not exactly an Einstein but represents a remarkable bridging of the gap between biology and technology.

Gordon relies a dish with about 60 electrodes
to pick up electrical signals generated by the brain cells. The brain drives the robot's movements.

Every time the robot nears an object, signals are directed to stimulate the brain by means
of the electrodes, the researchers explained in a statement released today by the University of Reading in England.

In response, the brain's output drives the robot's wheels
left and right, so that it moves around in an attempt to avoid hitting objects.

The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer, the scientists state.
Its sole means of control is from its own brain. Read the rest of the article here.

Gordon's brain of rat neurons and electrodes controls its movements.
Credit: University of Reading

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