Human Brains For Robots?

Professor Kevin Warwick and his merry team at the department of Cybernetics, University of Reading in the UK have already created several versions of a rat brain-controlled robot. The question now is - when will they start using human brain cells to control robots?


(Living robot has biological brain)

The rat brain-controlled robot has an actual, living brain consisting of rat neurons. The cells are removed from rat fetuses and then disentangled from each other with an enzyme bath. Finally, the cells are spread over a multi-electrode array (MEA) bathed in a nutrient-rich medium. Impulses from its robotic part are received; the neurons organize themselves and fire electrical signals back.

Professor Warwick and his colleague Ben Whalley apparently claim that the next step in their research is to use a human neuron cell line. They don't need any specific ethical approval from either the University or from the UK government to move forward with a human brain cell-controlled robot. The cultures are all available on the open market. According to Ben Whalley, "the ethical side of sourcing is done by the company from whom they are purchased."

Warwick comments, "This new research is tremendously exciting as firstly the biological brain controls its own moving robot body, and secondly it will enable us to investigate how the brain learns and memorizes its experiences. This research will move our understanding forward of how brains work, and could have a profound effect on many areas of science and medicine."

When Keith Laumer wrote about this idea in his 1965 book A Plague of Demons, the insidious act of stealing human brains to control robots was perpetrated by demonic aliens.

...near one lay a bulging, gallon-sized sack, opaque with dust.

I stepped around to it, knelt and wiped a finger across the bulge of the surface; it was yielding, warm to the touch. Pinkish fluid wobbled under the taut membrane.

I brushed away more dust. Now I could see a pink, jelly-like mass suspended in the liquid. It had a furrowed surface, like sun-baked mud, and from its underside hung a thick, curled stem, neatly snipped off three inches down...

Obviously, these aliens didn't know that the ethical side of sourcing could be done by an Earthside firm.

From Using Human “Wetware” to Control Robots ; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and the reference for the story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/20/2009)

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