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Researchers Create ‘Rat Cyborgs’ That People Control With Their Minds

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Rat cyborg robot mind control

(Credit: Azimuth_A/shutterstock)

I’ll just come right out and say it: Scientists have created human-controlled rat cyborgs.

Lest you think this is some media sensationalism at work, here’s the actual title of the paper under discussion, which came out last week in Scientific Reports: “Human Mind Control of Rat Cyborg’s Continuous Locomotion with Wireless Brain-to-Brain Interface.” That pretty much says it all.

Some of this tech — such as brain-brain interfaces (BBIs) and rat cyborgs — is nothing new in science, so in a way this just a small step in an already existing race. But, put another way: people are controlling rat cyborgs with their freaking brains now. Wirelessly.

The Main Brain

Here’s the deal.

BBIs are themselves based on stringing together BMIs, or brain-machine interfaces. These already exist, and present a cool way for people to control prosthetics or other devices. Apparently they can also function the other way around — instead of a brain controlling a device, a machine can alter brain patterns or “import tactile information back to the brain,” as the study’s authors put it. So BMIs allow for mechanically “controlling” others’ brains.

In effect, it works like this: A human has movement-related thoughts, which an EEG picks up and transfers to a computer. The computer translates that signal into “control instructions,” which get wirelessly beamed into the stimulator on the back of the rat and then into its brain via electrodes (which is, by the way, now a rat cyborg because of its cybernetic parts). The rat then responds to the instructions by actually doing them. All this tech exists, but for some reason “very few previous studies have explored BBIs across different brains,” the authors write — so they fixed that with a very real, actual experiment that involved humans wirelessly controlling rat cyborgs through mazes.

I can’t stress enough how real this is, or how often the authors used the phrase “rat cyborg” in their peer-reviewed scientific paper.

Testing Rat Cyborgs

The researchers, all from Zhejiang University in China, explain that they wanted a system that worked nearly instantaneously and with high accuracy, due to a living creatures’ “agility and self-consciousness.” And, apparently, that’s what they got.

“With this interface, our manipulators were able to mind control a rat cyborg to smoothly complete maze navigation tasks,” the authors write, almost gloating.

The human controller was non-invasively hooked into the BBI, where thinking about moving their left or right arms would command the rat to turn in those directions, and blinking corresponded to forward. The study used six rat cyborgs, well-trained and previously prepared for such control. The final part of the system involved a camera showing the rat’s real-time reactions, allowing the human controller to get instant visual feedback.

At first the maze was simple, a multi-armed set of tubes that met in the middle, like the spokes of a wheel. The idea was to use it to practice commanding the rat through turns. Then the mazes got more complex, with tight turns, multiple levels and a specific prescribed path. The rat cyborgs handled well, overall, with improved control over time; two of the rats apparently performed flawlessly.

(For their parts, the human controllers were subject to fatigue and easily distracted, but over time they improved, too, cultivating what the writers call “a tacit understanding between the human and the rat cyborg.”)

Nothing To Worry About…

I know what you’re thinking (a chilling phrase in light of the subject matter): Is this for real?

“The Zhang paper IS for real, and I don’t see anything unplausible about it,” says University of Washington brain researcher Andrea Stocco, who wasn’t involved with the work. “The results … are impressive but believable.”

As for next steps, the study’s authors discuss ways to improve the technology, but notably don’t suggest any particular applications, perhaps leaving those as an exercise to the reader. They do call the whole idea of BBI transmitting information between two entities “intriguingly possible,” and add, “furthermore, information flow will be made bidirectional and communicative between two human individuals.”

Stocco suggests the tech could be involved in improved augmented reality systems, remote control of an animal through tight spaces — or even an expert surgeon remotely controlling a doctor’s hands in a delicate operation. Ultimately, he says, “the holy grail of BBI would be sharing rich content that cannot be better expressed in words, such as emotions and feelings. We are still so far from that, but, of course, that would be the dream.”

For his part, Harvard lab director Seung-Schik Yoo (also unaffiliated with the paper) imagines such technology could benefit people even more directly. “I personally want to use brain stimulation [for its] neurotherapeutic applications,” he says. “I am one of the believers who think that brain stimulators will be part of our daily lives as ‘neuroprostheses’ some day.

“Of course, we have to fear the misuse of the technology and prevent it from happening,” he adds. “Many new technologies are a double-edged sword.”

But Stocco isn’t too worried. “We are very, very far from any application of these technologies on humans against their will,” he says. And anyway, it’s not like we need BBI to manipulate people even now. “Scandals like Cambridge Analytica remind us that social media feeds and advertisement campaigns are just the good old-fashioned way to achieve the same goals (making other people do something they wouldn’t do otherwise).” So really, this research is just bringing up some of the same old ethical dilemmas we should already be used to dealing with.

Only, you know, featuring rat cyborgs.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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