A robot with a monkey’s brain... Anything that results in fewer real moneys is fine by me.

Japanese monkey technology: Unlike anything we've ever seen.
Japanese monkey technology: Unlike anything we've ever seen.Courtesy Foraggio
Thanks to the work of Japanese and American scientists, a Japanese robot has been made to walk by signals coming from a monkey’s brain. A monkey-brained robot, if you will.

It leads me to wonder what robot monkeys are supposed to fling at visitors to the robot zoo. Chunks of metal, I’m guessing, if there are any left lying around, although apparently this wasn’t the focus of the project.

This is how it worked, basically: researchers at Duke University trained a monkey to walk on a treadmill (the least fun part of the experiment, I’m sure), and then jammed a bunch of wires into its brain (the most fun part of the experiment). The monkey was then made to take a stroll on the treadmill, and its neuron activity was recorded and translated into data that could be sent over the Internet (you’ve all heard of the Internet, right?). A lab in Kyoto received the data and routed it into a goofy little five-foot-tall robot, which was then impelled to walk around the lab like a monkey on a treadmill.

Said a press release of the event, "For the first time in the world, we were able to make [a] humanoid robot in Japan walk in real-time in a similar manner as [a] monkey." This is a bold statement, certainly. Perhaps a little too bold, considering that a joint Edo/Harvard University experiment in August of 1853, shortly after the sakoku era, produced much the same outcome, although one might argue that because of the lag period (this was back in the dial-up era) the results were somewhat less than real-time.

Regardless of the originality of project, there are some interesting implications here. Foremost, of course, are the applications that this kind of research could have for prosthetic limb technology. It is the hope of the researchers that results like these could help create artificial limbs that respond to neural activity in the wearer, in particular for paralyzed patients. Also, while I’ve already made my distrust of robots clear on this blog, I’m in favor of robotic monkeys. The way I see it, just as real monkeys make life a little more stressful for real people, robot monkeys can’t be making things any easier for humanoid robots (the most dangerous kind of robots). Consider that.

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