Bionic monkeys eat

For the first time, monkeys have successfully fed themselves with a robotic arm jacked directly into their brains. Neuro-control of robots isn't new, but apparently performing tasks as complicated as eating is a huge challenge. Conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, the demo was captured on video that's now on YouTube. Of course, the research itself may not sit well with people who are against all animal testing. From New Scientist:
200805281229 Most people who become paralysed or lose limbs retain the mental dexterity to perform physical actions. And by tapping into a region of the brain responsible for movement – the motor cortex – researchers can decode a person's intentions and translate them into action with a prosthetic.

This had been done mostly with monkeys and in virtual worlds or with simple movements, such as reaching out a hand. But two years ago, an American team hacked into the brain of a patient with no control over his arms to direct a computer cursor and a simple robotic arm.

Schwarz's team extracted even more complicated information from the brains of two rhesus macaques by reading the electrical pulses of about 100 brain cells. Normally, millions of neurons fire when we lift an arm or grab a snack, but the signals from a handful of cells are enough to capture the basics, (neurological engineer Andrew) Schwarz says.
Link to New Scientist article, Link to video


  1. animal research has come a long way from the simple sadism of the 50’s. I kill cows and pigs and chickens and fish every day. As long as every effort is made to minimize the suffering of these monkeys, I am prepared to accept their blood on my hands if it means human children with spinal injuries might walk and move.

  2. I would prefer that we use internet trolls for our experiments. Except for the profound differences in brain chemistry, they give a better picture of how things would really work in a human body.

  3. “I kill cows and pigs and chickens and fish every day.”

    Do you work on some kind of enormous farm?

  4. Having had a friend in college who had a monkey as a pet, I can conclusively say next up is bionic monkey masturbation.

  5. What about people who are against monkeys? Look at their terrible people fingers!! All we need is for them to start getting bionic implants and going nuts a la 8 Man After.

  6. “Do you work on some kind of enormous farm?”
    Yes. It is called the global commercial food economy. Even if I fast for a day, my other participation still implicates me. It is all too complex and interlinked. Even if I withdraw one day to my shack on the beach, I will still be somehow connected to it. I admire vegans for all the work they put into their conscientiousness of diet, but even the strictest one is still splattered with blood somehow.

    I note also that someone has mounted a rights challenge for chimpanzees (shades of Jerry Was A Man)

  7. “Do you work on some kind of enormous farm?”

    No, he just really likes his Bacon Anchovie Burgers with Chicken Liver sauce.

  8. I agree that I can live with this kind of thing, if it’s done as humanely as possible and the purpose is research to alleviate suffering.

    I can’t yet imagine how this kind of thing would help companies entice brainless young men to douse themselves with rancid perfume in the hope that hordes of hot women will fly up their noses on jetpacks, but I don’t have the foresight or vision of your typical superpowered marketer.

  9. While science is amazing, it’s also basically inaccessible. How many more years will this technology be used by the world? 100? Before we become extinct? (This is coming from the daughter of a paralyzed father who is barely getting hospitals to do even the basic care like keeping sores disinfected.)

  10. i note the carefully composed photo, so you can’t see the evidence of the awful surgeries the poor monkey has probably endured, nor the restraints that are holding him/her still. if the scientists are so convinced of the moral rightness of their work, why not depict the full truth of the means that bring us to that end?

  11. It appears they have protocols

    From what I gather from the article and image, the surgery is likely electrode implants by small holes drilled through the skull and hair-fine wires inserted. There is no detail about the arm restraints but I imagine padded tubes would do.

    I have nothing but intuition to judge the psychological care used. In sum; I don’t see clear signs of abuse or neglect.

    Would any with direct knowledge care to comment?

  12. The braingate guys (look up the company name for more info) have had monkeys feeding themselves juice by moving cursors on a screen via implanted electrodes for quite some time. They start them out with a joystick while they calibrate the sensor, then turn off the joystick… and sooner or later the monkey realizes “oh wait, I don’t need to actually move the stick, I can just think and make the cursor move”. And then it sits back and quite happily feeds itself juice. (A friend of mine from college actually works with the braingate research monkeys.)

    The point is to allow paralyzed people and amputees to interact more normally with their environments. They’ve actually done a couple human trials, with considerable sucess.

  13. Takuan, I don’t work at that university, but I do work in a BME (biomedical engineering) lab (although I do not do this kind of work), and I know about our animal-use protocols. Animal pain or suffering is never acceptable and there are very strict rules to ensure this, including rules about how animals are housed, treated, anesthetized, etc. If you break these rules you are looking at major penalties, not a slap on the wrist. For non-human primates the rules are even tougher.

    I have never met a scientist who takes lightly his or her responsibility to treat animals kindly. Animal studies have been critical to many scientific and medical advances, but no scientist I have met will undertake an animal study without a good reason.

    Animals used in research are treated much, much better than any animal farmed for food, and better than most pet-shop animals. Even animals that are put down are put down as humanely as you’d put down your own dog or cat — more humanely than some shelters (that use gas chambers).

    I’m sorry; this subject gets me ranting. Researchers aren’t being cruel to animals. For that, you’ll have to apply to your local factory farm, puppy mill, corporate pet store, or pet hoarder.

  14. I hardly call that ranting. What a difference a few decades makes. I can tell you from absolute knowledge that animal suffering in lab work was once just plain evil. At least in the English speaking world that reads this page, we can take heart that we have learned to do better. This came about as a result of many factors. Not the least was animal rights protests and organizations. I see a middle way here; current researchers should maintain the drive to find non-animal alternatives (complacency at progress is the enemy here) and animal rights activists should perhaps be a little less shrill and give some credit for real progress.

    Spinal cord injury could be in the cards for any of us at any time. Or any of ours. This research is IMPORTANT. I do agree with Caroline that there is plenty of deserving targets in the pet industry and outright criminality like dog-fighting.

    Someone sounded despairing at when this would all pay off in human application. That cannot be predicted, but it is certain that delay in research will postpone the moment a human stands and walks away from a severed spine.

  15. I cannot speak for animal research, but in my undergraduate biology program, we were careful not to hurt the animals. We did a lot of live dissection, and the only animal that wasn’t anesthetized was the clam– and I might be mistaken about that. We anesthetized the worms before we cut into them, all kinds of worms.
    When we did frogs in Gen Bio, we made sure to impress upon the students that they were to get every bit of knowledge out. One lab, we hadn’t put enough frogs in the fridge, so the animal guy brought in a warm, and thus lively, one. He swabbed the back of its head with an analgesic to keep it from feeling anything when he pithed it.
    When we did rat dissection in a later course, I wasn’t allowed to hold the rat while my partner injected it with the anesthetic because I held it too loosely. The rat would flinch and the injection would hurt more that way.

    Every time, the word was ‘sacrifice’ rather than ‘kill’. Every time.

  16. this has already been touched upon, but this has been in development for several years.
    here’s a link to a three year old bbc article covering this “news”.

  17. Didn’t any of you people read Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s We3? This will all end in tears. Bloody, bloody tears.

  18. How long before first efficient cyberimplanst? How long before first prostethic limb gets BETTER than original?

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