The progression of technology is a funny thing. While certain advances are easy to anticipate ahead of time, there will always be researchers out there developing projects that few would ever even consider. A group of scientists at Duke University have set out to answer a question that no one was really asking: is it possible to create a computer from rat brains?
Before that gives anyone the wrong idea, the brains were still in the rats’ heads for the duration of the experiment — they were connected to one another via microwire arrays, rather than simply being scooped out and placed in a desktop tower. From there, they made up something the researchers are calling a ‘Brainet,’ which is described as a network of animal brains exchanging information via brain-to-brain interfaces.
While the science of connecting animal brains together to perform computational tasks is rather difficult to get your head around, the results are easier to make sense of. The rats working in league were said to have “consistently outperformed individual rats.” The researchers demonstrated this through a variety of tasks including the transfer of visual information to the Brainet, the transfer of memories between rats, and collective weather forecasting.
In the last experiment, the rats were stimulated by temperature and barometric pressure data that might indicate precipitation. Together, the rats were able to correctly forecast the weather in about 41 percent of cases — much higher than pure chance, which would result in only 16 percent accuracy.
This study follows earlier research carried out into Brainets at Duke University, but it’s an early step in a long process. The end point, at least theoretically, is the construction of organic computer systems much more powerful than the tech we have available at present — but that’s rather a long way off.
However, it could well become a reality at some point, given that this early research into the subject has proven to be a success. Perhaps in the future, your pets and your PC will be one and the same. But, for now, be thankful that you don’t have to take your laptop for a walk.