It’s been 30 years since the first message was sent over initial nodes of the Arpanet, the Pentagon-sponsored precursor to the internet. But this month, researchers announced something that could be equally historic: the passing of messages between two rat brains, the first step toward what they call the “brain net”.
Connecting the brains of two rats through implanted electrodes, scientists at Duke University demonstrated that in response to a visual cue, the trained response of one rat, called an encoder, could be mimicked without a visual cue in a second rat, called the decoder. In other words, the brain of one rat had communicated to the other.
"These experiments demonstrated the ability to establish a sophisticated, direct communication linkage between rat brains, and that the decoder brain is working as a pattern-recognition device,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University School of Medicine. “So basically, we are creating an organic computer that solves a puzzle."
Whether or not the Duke University experiments turn out to be historic (some skepticism has already been raised), the work reflects a growing Pentagon interest in neuroscience for applications that range from such far-off ideas as teleoperation of military devices (think mind-controlled drones), to more near-term and less controversial technology, like prosthetics controlled by the human brain. In fact, like the Arpanet, the experiment on the rat “brain net” was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).