Harvard and the Brain

Harvard and the Brain

In science-that-sounded-good-on-paper news, researchers at the Harvard University Center for Brain Studies (CBS) have developed a huge machine that can control rat tails most of the time.

Building off early research at the Hamelin Institute for Pie and Piping Innovation Experiments (HIPPIE) in Germany, the machine consists of two pieces:

  • a “run-of-the-mill EEG-based” brain-computer interface (sold at most Walmart and Best Buy stores)
  • a focused ultrasound (FUS) computer-brain interface

The process is surprisingly simple. The BCI is attached to a human, and the CBI is attached to the rat. Then, the human stares at a pattern on a screen until the rat moves its tail, at which time the scientist declares victory and starts writing up new grant proposals.

The project has not been without its setbacks. One researcher reversed the FUS and EEG systems, causing the rat’s thoughts to be beamed into a human brain. The researcher suffered no ill effects, as he did not have a tail. The project was also delayed by an investigation into misappropriation of grant funds after an unnamed project member spent $42,000 on cheese in March 2013.

The system currently uses very specific patterns on the human end of the BCI. Attempts to use more common visual stimuli have had poor results. One graduate student recounted his experiment to use video games to elicit a response:

“So I connected these two white mice to the FUS, and I just sat there, doing the same thing I do every night — try to take over the world. No effect. I thought I noticed as I was leaving that their cage was empty, but both mice were back the next morning.”

Moving forward, the equipment has many far-reaching applications. Researchers plan on using the new grants to transmit “more complex ideas, such as hunger or sexual arousal, from human to rat”. Environmentalists expressed hope that the technology could be used to replenish rat populations is areas such as New York City and Detroit, where rats have become virtually extinct due to their inability to find food and reproduce.

Technology mavens such as Dr. John Smith, professor of Mavening in Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, have been exploring other uses beyond breeding new rat populations. The private sector has also expressed interest. Some of the companies looking into the technology include:

- DirecTV, which has been struggling to attract viewers to their recently introduced DogTV channel.
- CBS has been looking at partnering with the CBS to develop an app to use a smartphone-based CBI to attract viewers to The Mentalist, the CBS hit show about the CBI.

Some see the breakthrough as an attempt to even the balance of power between humans and monkeys. One expert on bioethics, who requested anonymity because his wife thought he was mowing the lawn, said he changed his mind about the project after reading about terrorist baboon attacks in South Africa. “I’m not sure how well human-controlled rats can stand up against ape-controlled robot arms, but at least now we’ll have a fighting chance!”

Others are not convinced. A report that the US Army is building a Focused UltraSound System for national defense has drawn opposition from activists who don’t understand why the military is making such a FUSS.

Related research in Capetown, South Africa on marauding baboons was stymied when it was discovered that baboons don’t have tails. Their efforts have been redirected into creating an image that will force the damn dirty apes to get their stinking paws off us.

(Click on the picture to read the original article.)

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