Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monkey See Monkey Do? Or is it Monkey Brain Implant Makes Monkey Do?

“Brain implant improves decision-making in monkey” is the headline of a story in last Friday’s L. A. Times by Jon Bardin. The article notes that scientists “…created a novel brain implant that improves cognitive performance and decision-making in a monkey.” The Bardin goes on to report that “The device, developed in part by researchers at USC, manipulates ongoing brain activity to guide the animal away from mistakes and toward a correct decision.”

Does this sound a bit like mind control? Yes, and at least part of me is suspicious/worried/concerned.

Yet, knowing what I do about brain damage, I can appreciate their impetus for the research, i.e. “The study, published this week in the Journal of Neural Engineering, marks an important step toward implantable devices that could one day help people with brain injuries better perform basic tasks.”

Bardin goes on to note that, “The field of ‘brain prosthetics’ has been dominated by efforts to restore physical abilities, like devices that use brain activity to move a robotic arm or a cursor across a screen. But the new study records an attempt to actually improve the thinking ability of a monkey, a tall task given that even the most simple cognitive tasks requires the coordination of millions of brain cells.”

Does this mean that, someday, we’ll be able to install a cognitive brain upgrade similar to going from Windows XP to Windows 7? If so, I just want to make sure that I get Windows 7 and not Vista.

And here’s a link to an abstract of the research in Journal of Neural Engineerin:

And here’s a link to my favorite monkey “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” picture from the original, centuries-old carving at the Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan:

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