News Detail

Andrea Stocco is quoted in this article in Discover magazine about brain to brain interfaces between humans and rats.

Researchers Create ‘Rat Cyborgs’ That People Control With Their Minds

By Bill Andrews | February 14, 2019

I’ll just come right out and say it: Scientists have created human-controlled rat cyborgs.

Lest you think this is some media sensationalism at work, here’s the actual title of the paper under discussion, which came out last week in Scientific Reports : “Human Mind Control of Rat Cyborg’s Continuous Locomotion with Wireless Brain-to-Brain Interface.” That pretty much says it all.

Some of this tech — such as brain-brain interfaces (BBIs) and rat cyborgs — is nothing new in science, so in a way this just a small step in an already existing race. But, put another way: people are controlling rat cyborgs with their freaking brains now.Wirelessly .

The Main Brain

Here’s the deal.

BBIs are themselves based on stringing together BMIs, or brain-machine interfaces. These already exist, and present a cool way for people to control prosthetics or other devices. Apparently they can also function the other way around — instead of a brain controlling a device, a machine can alter brain patterns or “import tactile information back to the brain,” as the study’s authors put it. So BMIs allow for mechanically “controlling” others’ brains.

In effect, it works like this: A human has movement-related thoughts, which an EEG picks up and transfers to a computer. The computer translates that signal into “control instructions,” which get wirelessly beamed into the stimulator on the back of the rat and then into its brain via electrodes (which is, by the way, now a rat cyborg because of its cybernetic parts). The rat then responds to the instructions by actually doing them. All this tech exists, but for some reason “very few previous studies have explored BBIs across different brains,” the authors write — so they fixed that with a very real, actual experiment that involved humans wirelessly controlling rat cyborgs through mazes.

I can’t stress enough how real this is, or how often the authors used the phrase “rat cyborg” in their peer-reviewed scientific paper...

I know what you’re thinking (a chilling phrase in light of the subject matter): Is this for real?

“The Zhang paper IS for real, and I don’t see anything unplausible about it,” says University of Washington brain researcher Andrea Stocco , who wasn’t involved with the work. “The results … are impressive but believable.”

As for next steps, the study’s authors discuss ways to improve the technology, but notably don’t suggest any particular applications, perhaps leaving those as an exercise to the reader. They do call the whole idea of BBI transmitting information between two entities “intriguingly possible,” and add, “furthermore, information flow will be made bidirectional and communicative between two human individuals.”

Stocco suggests the tech could be involved in improved augmented reality systems, remote control of an animal through tight spaces — or even an expert surgeon remotely controlling a doctor’s hands in a delicate operation. Ultimately, he says, “the holy grail of BBI would be sharing rich content that cannot be better expressed in words, such as emotions and feelings. We are still so far from that, but, of course, that would be the dream.”

Read the entire article here .