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Getting To Know You - Getting To Know All About YOU -Brain-Sharing

posted Aug 18, 2015, 12:07 PM by Ellen Pearlman

Neuroscientists at Duke University have networked the brains of both rats, and more recently monkeys, in a process which they have named Brainets. It consists of different clusters of animals that can, in the case of monkeys, merge their brains to control a virtual avatar arm.  This suggests animals brains will be harnessed, in the future, into hybrid  computers using digital-analog computational architectures. This type of harnessing is referred to as very large scale brain activity (VLSBA) .


All images from Computing Arm Movements with a Monkey Brainet inNature - Scientific Reports

The experiment placed three monkeys in separate cubicles - which must have been quite boring for the monkeys. They were shown a virtual monkey arm of either an X or Y position on a screen, grasping for a round object. Visual feedback showed them when they successfully placed the virtual arm on the round, ball-like object.


Diagram of experiment

All monkeys were implanted with multi-electrode arrays in their motor and somatosensory cortices. Each monkey brain was responsible for a percentage of the virtual arm’s movement. One monkey controlled an X position and another one controlled a Y movement. The position of the brain electrodes is shown in green rectangles in the diagram above. With visual feedback the monkey’s can see the hand move, and thus begin to control it. If the monkeys chose the correct choice, they received a reward.

The monkeys (all three of them) were actually able to move the virtual hand correctly to receive the virtual reward. Sometimes one monkey controlled one part, and other times all of the monkey’s controlled the same part. The researchers referred to this endeavor as a ‘supertask’. 


There is a screen shot live time video showing dots of monkeys moving the virtual avatar to bring it inside the circle


In this one two monkeys virtual avatar (blue and green) are inside the “arm” movement. The red one is outside the reward area.

When the monkeys worked together in teams, the results were better. However, this experiment showed two or more brains, in a more or less unsupervised way could move a virtual arm. In the most simple way this showed that brains can be integrated into computational architecture, and accomplish a common task.

The implications for artists to work with this type of setup is enormous. The first one who thought about this was David Rosenboom in 1972, when he designed and diagrammed four linked brains in performance creating a type of meta instrument. 


David Rosenboom’s 1972 drawing for a multi-linked brain chorus.

Rosenboom actually created this performance for the first series of the new Whitney Museum’s Performance series in conjunction with Issue Project Room in May 2015. Once again, artistic imagination dreamed it up first, and science eventually actualized it.