A Brazilian Brain-Machine Interface

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This year, scientists at the International Institute of Neurosciences of Natal (Rio Grande do Norte) teamed up with their counterparts in a lab in South Carolina in order to conduct an interesting experiment. The results are an initial step towards collaborative organic networks, albeit in rats.

A rodent in an enclosed space in Natal was equipped with neuro-sensors, as was a rodent in a duplicate enclosure in the US. When a hole in the wall was created for the Natal-based rat, it had to use its whiskers to sense if the hole was narrow or wide and then step on one of two levers corresponding to the two sizes. Picking the correct lever meant a treat for the rat.

The neuro-sensors come into play when the Brazilian rat, having started its test slightly earlier than the American rat, would effectively communicate over the internet (via the sensors) to the American rat telling it which lever was correct. Sixty to seventy percent of the time, the tests showed that the rats were working in tandem to solve their shared problem. As a reward for the American rat’s success per test, the Brazilian rat got an additional treat for sending the right information.

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One of the main authors behind the study, the Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, hopes that by improving on the “brainet”, as he calls it, individual brains will be able to do a myriad of tasks that previously weren’t possible. As to what those tasks are or could be, he wouldn’t say.

Possible future use cases, if used in humans, could include telepathy between humans, animals and/or machines. The study, though, seems like the first stages of such a process so I wouldn’t hold your breath for something like this hitting the market in the next decade. Though I must say, if you think about it, communication over the centuries has been increasingly shortened and these days we can communicate with anyone, anywhere, effortlessly and instantaneously. The logical next step after wearable tech (which happens to have been all the craze earlier this year at the CES trade show event in Las Vegas) would be biotech. Get ready…

Below is an explanation of the “brainet” (skip to minute mark 5:50 for the experiment)

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