Researchers used artificial intelligence to teach rats how to move objects in virtual reality by simply thinking about where they want them to go. This type of rat-telekinesis could be useful in understanding how the brain functions. The experiment is detailed in a new study currently available on the preprint server bioRxiv.
The investigation was led by Albert Lee and his colleagues at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Virginia. As New Scientist reports, Lee and his colleagues set out to discover how the electrical activity in the hippocampi of the rats responded as they ran on top of a spherical treadmill, preparing them for the next part of the experiment.
To explore the full depths of this strange rat telekinesis, the researchers let rats get used to moving a ball through the virtual environment, roughly one square meter. If the rats could move the ball to a tall column, then they were rewarded with water. The researchers removed the treadmill once the rats had become accustomed to it.
At this point, researchers hooked up the rats with a trained AI which was able learn links between the brain activity of the rat and its perceptions in the virtual world. The resulting research showed the rats could simply think of where they wanted to move the ball within the environment and then move it there.
The AI used successfully the brain-machine interaction the researchers developed to determine where rats wanted to place the object within the VR environments. The research shows that rats are able to recall distant locations and can even visualize moving there. The imaginations changed brain activity, which enabled the experiment to be successful.
Past experiments have shown that human and rat brain cells can be combined, so it’s possible that these tests could also be easily designed to work in the human brain, too.
The idea is to use similar machines to help paralyzed people control devices and move around. The problem there, though, is that the AI would need to be trained to decode those brain signals for any new environment, which could prove tricky.
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