When it comes to science, we live in an unprecedented era of news that makes you go, “Holy cow!” In the span of just a few days, our greatest analytical minds have offered new theories about the origins of Stonehenge (the rocks came from Wales), the speed at which the universe expands (it has to do with dark energy maybe slowly destroying all of existence), the uncanny alignment of the pyramids of Giza (it’s some shit about the sun idk), and found a really big bee (it’s big as hell). These aren’t necessarily paradigm-shifting developments on par with what Newton, Galileo, or Einstein came up with, but they have the potential to help iron out little wrinkles in our understanding of life, which, in an era of increasing uncertainty feels kind of nice. Also, if you see the big bee please don’t kill it; it’s not aggressive and bees of all sizes are dying at an alarming rate.
However, one recent breakthrough puts all of that other crap about rocks and the sun and astrophysics to shame: scientists in China successfully ran an experiment in which people used their brains to wirelessly direct the movement of rats through a series of mazes. According to Discover Magazine, researchers with Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, pulled off the rat stuff by using an existing technology called a brain-machine interface, which, as its name would suggest, allows a person to control a machine with their brain. The Chinese scientists’ big idea was to hook one interface up to a human and another to a rat. Per Discover:
It works like this: A human has movement-related thoughts, which an EEG picks up and transfers to a computer. The computer translates that signal into “control instructions,” which get wirelessly beamed into the stimulator on the back of the rat and then into its brain via electrodes. [...] The rat then responds to the instructions by actually doing them.
Why control a rat with your mind? Lots of reasons, I guess — the Discover piece quotes a University of Washington researcher who suggests we could eventually build on the rat-remote’s underlying technology to guide a surgeon’s hands or share emotions — but let’s all use our galaxy brains here. The biggest threat to our existence is climate change. While we can and should try to stamp out its root causes and re-engineer society to become more sustainable so that humanity as a whole endures, what if we can’t? Then we’re going to have to resort to what libertarian Brain Genious™ Silicon Valley people refer to as “supply-side solutions.” As in, if we can’t satisfy the earth’s demand that we stop killing it, how can we change the supply of bodies that we reside in to lessen our impact on the environment?
If we had enough time, maybe we could figure out how transfer our consciousness to something super cool, like eagles or dolphins or lemurs, but the clock’s ticking. We’ve got ten years before this whole planet goes kablooey, there’s no time to teach everyone how to live with wings or fins or big tails. Rats it is.
I see this whole rat thing going one of two ways. One, the earth degenerates to the point that eventual god-emperor Mark Zuckerberg issues an edict demanding that in order to cut down on our use of resources, everyone has to go into a rat body unless they can pay the Rat Tax of one million Facebucks (this will be the official currency once Zuck takes over), which only the wealthiest among us will be able to afford. This will backfire when the rats will rise up, overthrow our human overlords (who, by the way, have put all of us to work creating green energy by running on those circular wheel-thingamajigs), and turn the earth into one large rat commune. I call this the “Pinky and the Brain” scenario, and yes I know Pinky and the Brain were mice but work with me here.
The second, and more dire situation, is that some extinction-level event occurs and all the rich people go live in luxury underground lairs, floating cities, Mars, and, of course, sick-ass rat resorts where their bodies exist in suspended animation while cycling through a never-ending series of rat bodies in which they can do tiny versions of human stuff. The rest of us will be left to our own, non-cybernetic devices.
Beyond fantastical applications of this technology, I have a lot of questions about the idea of connecting two brains through a body-machine interface in general. Like, what happens if you hook into a rat with a really strong brain, and instead of being able to control the rat, the little critter turns the tables and is controlling the human? That’d be pretty freaky, right? I bet the rat would be super pissed and try to bite someone using their new human body, before escaping the facility and leaving some poor test subject sitting inside a rat waiting for the rat to bring his body back. Also, you’ve seen the movie Face/Off right? In that movie Nic Cage takes his face off of himself and puts it on John Travolta’s body (and vice versa), but what if they’d just switched brains? Then it would have been called Brain/Off. This rat telepathy stuff really makes you think.