Telepathic rats communicate via brain-to-brain connections
Scientists from Duke University and Brazil claim wires connecting one rodent to another can allow communication spanning continents via the internet. Professor Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, led a team of researchers who demonstrated that it is possible to transmit instructions from one animal to another by brain-to-brain communication, a process akin to telepathy.
Brain-to-brain communication could be the start of organic-based computing based on networks of interconnected brains. Pairs of laboratory rats were able to communicate with each other using microscopic electrodes implanted into their brains. This occurred as part of an experiment where the two rats had to work together in order to receive a reward (see video at source).
The researchers had this to say: “as far as we can tell, these findings demonstrate for the first time that a direct channel for behavioral information exchange can be established between two animal’s brains without the use of the animal’s regular forms of communication.” One rat in each pair, assigned to be the encoder, detected the signals of where to find a food reward and had to communicate these instructions to a second decoder rat. Once the second rat followed the first rat’s instructions, both rats would receive a reward. These communications were able to be sent over the internet, with rats at one lab in Brazil communicating with rats at the other lab in North Carolina.
Professor Nicolelis inserted micro-electrode implants into the rats’ brains to record the neuron activity associated with decision-making. Putting these signals through a computer encoder transmitted them to the second rat via wires connected to another set of micro-electrode implants. The second rat learned how to decode the signals quickly for its own use. Each rat was trained to find water in its cage based on the type of signals they were given. However, only the encoder rat was actually exposed to the signals, which it had to pass on correctly to the decoder rat. The decoder rats managed to find the reward in about 70% of trials.
What is most interesting, however, was the scientists found that when two rats were paired up they quickly established a rapport based on some sort of sensory feedback. If the second rat failed at its task, the first rat would modify what it was transmitting to help the second rat. Both rats worked together since they were sufficiently motivated by the reward.
Future work could encode entire thoughts, hopefully connecting more brains to each other, boosted by the effect of sensory feedback rapport. Professor Christopher James of the University of Warwick, who conducts similar research, said that the technique is still very crude since it relies only on monitoring one part of the rat’s brain for its nerve activity. “Leap into the future by, say, 50 years: if you could stimulate many multiple sites, and if we knew what patterns to use and when, then we may well be able to conjure up complex ‘thoughts’,” Professor James said. “Abstract thoughts are harder to read and represent; but not impossible technologically. We can already do that … we just need to understand the brain better.” Professor Nicolelis hopes brain-to-brain communication will expand the capabilities of intelligence one day, saying “we cannot even predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a brain-net. In theory, you could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves.”