A research team has taken the application of brain-machine interfaces one step further–and successfully managed to network the brains of groups of animals, into what they call a "brainet". So, what does this mean to you? Just this: if, in the future, you could join a hive mind, you’d be a lot smarter…but also–well–a lot less alone.
Miguel Nicolelis and his team at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, in their research into brain-machine interfaces, for applications such as prosthetic limb control, networked the brains of three monkeys to a computer, to control a virtual robotic limb. However, each monkey only had control over one axis, but they managed to synchronize their efforts to complete the task. “They synchronise their brains and they achieve the task by creating a superbrain – a structure that is the combination of three brains,” says Nicolelis.
The monkeys were only connected to the computer, and not one another, but in their next experiment, Nicolelis’ team did just that. Four rats were implanted with electrodes used to both stimulate and record impulses from the portions of their brains involved with motor control. After ten sessions, the rats could complete the task given them 61 percent of the time.
"This is the way parallel processing works in computing," explains Iyad Rahwan, Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, UAE. “In order to synchronise, the brains are responding to each other. So you end up with an input, some kind of computation, and an output – what a computer does. Dividing the computing of a task between multiple brains is similar to sharing computations between multiple processors in modern computers."
From Whitley Strieber: "So many recent advances in computing and neuroscience both suggest that the brain can be dramatically enhanced, but also present such a profound challenge to privacy that the very definition of western culture’s greatest achievement, the recognition of the individual, is being called into deep question. ‘Hiving’ the brain of the human species, if it ever becomes possible, will fundamentally change our culture because it will fundamentally change our nature. One has to wonder if this has happened elsewhere in this vast universe, and if so, what sort of society we may be confronting if we ever come to face an alien presence directly."
The image illustrates a rat bearing a subcortical electrode. Such electrodes are used for brain stimulation, but are not the precise device used in the experiment described above.