Sunday, October 24, 2004

Rats flying F-22's

Scientists at the University of Florida have successfully conducted a very intriguing experiment.

A collection of 25,000 "living" neurons were taken from the brain of a rat and cultured in a petri dish. Soon, they claimed, they had a living computation device with enough power to control an F-22 fighter jet. Using a multielectrode array to interface between the neurons and a desktop computer, they set up a bidirectional communication channel and "taught" the neurons to operate a flight simulator. Pretty soon, they had a network that could maintain a relatively stable flight by controlling the pitch and roll of the aircraft in various weather condition.

Pretty impressive I'll admit. My roommate, a microbiologist, is all over me - "Ha Ha. we'll have AI before you will." But it's one thing to learn to control aircraft, another to do ,say, common sense reasoning, as AI researchers have found. Pretty soon they're going to run into the same problems we did, when they try to "scale things up." They seem pretty optimistic:

"We're just starting out. But using this model will help us understand the crucial bit of information between inputs and the stuff that comes out ... And you can imagine the more you learn about that, the more you can harness the computation of these neurons into a wide range of applications."

Best of luck guys, you'll need it.


Blogger Nitish said...

I still have the same question I did when I first read the article a while ago; how did the rat neurons learn? What form of feedback was used to make them maintain level flight? Why didn't they learn to stall the aircraft instead? Virtual cheese to reward good behaviour? :-)

2:35 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Next, they should try to hook an *entire* rat brain up to the simulator and see how it does. I mean, if part of a rat brain can do this well, an entire rat will probably be one of the best fighter pilots in the world. After that, we can try hooking up a human brain. Imagine that; planes piloted by human brains.

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