Robots Controlled by Monkeys May One Day Enslave Humans

Or they might just eat all of our marshmallows and fruit. Either way, I’m basing my prediction on research published online this week in the journal Nature. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine developed a robotic arm that they attached to monkeys, whose actual arms were restrained. Using signals from their brains alone, the monkeys were able to control the robot arms to feed themselves marshmallows and fruit.

In order to accomplish this, probes are inserted into the monkeys’ brains, specifically into the motor cortex, where voluntary movement is initiated. The probes can detect the stimulation of motor neurons when a monkey desires to move its own arm to reach for a piece of food. The electrical activity is fed into a computer program, which translates it into an analogous movement of the robotic arm.

This isn’t the first time brain activity has been indirectly converted into some form of external action. Past successes have primarily been with simpler tasks, however, such as the movement of a cursor on a computer screen.

In the case of the robotic arm, the monkeys must learn to visualize reaching for the food. The movement of the arm is reasonably fluid and the researchers suggest the monkey eventually comes to think of it as a natural extension of its own body.

This type of device could have amazing potential for sufferers of spinal cord injuries or “locked-in” conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).