Robot Does Monkey’s Bidding

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Two hundred pound robot lumbering along on tread mill, doing the bidding of a monkey several thousand miles away.
An international and interdisciplinary team of scientists have developed a robot that will carry out physical activities in imitation of the activities of a monkey. The monkey and the robot are hooked together via the internet. The monkey has a brain-machine interface. When the monkey moves along on a treadmill, the robot mirrors those movements. The monkey and the robot need not be anywhere near each other, of course. In fact, it is probably a good idea to keep them in separate places. If the robot knew that its entire existence was really just to be an automaton doing the bidding of a monkey, if it realized that it was a mere simian-driven Golem, it may become depressed or go berserk.


Here’s a video of the coupled human and monkey:

This experiment is a physical implementation of the mind-body problem. The reason a monkey is being used instead of a human is that it is not safe to plant the necessary electrodes in a human’s brain, but monkeys are sufficiently mindful to serve the role.

A brain machine interface … brain activity to control an external device. …

In preparing for the experiment, Idoya [the monkey] was trained to walk upright on a treadmill. [n.b.: I suppose this was easier than making a robot that moved like a monkey?] She held onto a bar with her hands and got treats — raisins and Cheerios — as she walked at different speeds, forward and backward, for 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 2 months.

Meanwhile, electrodes implanted in the so-called leg area of Idoya’s brain recorded the activity of 250 to 300 neurons that fired while she walked. …

To obtain a detailed model of Idoya’s leg movements, the researchers also painted her ankle, knee and hip joints with fluorescent stage makeup and, using a special high speed camera, captured her movements on video.

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The original Golem. The Golem was not controlled by a monkey, but the physical resemblance between CB and Golem is too much too ignore.

Eventually, in fact, yesterday (Thursday), this process was carried out one more time, only with the Robot ‘CB’ hooked via the internet being sent Idoya the Monkey’s translated brain signals. Idoya was in North Carolina. CB was in Kyoto, Japan.

I’ve been to Kyoto. There are a LOT of monkeys in the area, both wild and in a major primate research center not too far away. So how do we know some other monkey was not controlling the robot using ESP? Well, the engineers will have to work on that question.

Designed by Gordon Cheng and colleagues at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, the robot was chosen for the experiment because of its extraordinary ability to mimic human locomotion.

As Idoya’s brain signals streamed into CB’s actuators, her job was to make the robot walk steadily via her own brain activity. She could see the back of CB’s legs on an enormous movie screen in front of her treadmill and received treats if she could make the robot’s joints move in synchrony with her own leg movements.

Now this is starting to get freaky.

I understand from an inside source that the experiment was disrupted when several Mii’s from an adjoinging Wii network entered the scene and demanded a tennis rematch with the monkey.

Anyway, the experiment did work and the scientsits got very giddy.

“It’s walking! It’s walking! It’s ALIVE!” Dr. Nicolelis said. “That’s one small step for a robot and one giant leap for a primate.”

You know, I would have put it the other way around. I think the monkey was doing something pretty easy and the robot was doing the hard thing (being controlled by a sentient being is not easy, according to all my friend who are controlled by voices in their heads).

The source for all the quotes, the photo, and a place where you can read much much more about it is here, at the New York Times.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike O'Risal
    January 18, 2008

    If a human-like robot is called an android, shouldn’t a monkey-like robot be called a simdroid?

    Hmmm.

  2. #2 HP
    January 18, 2008

    Mike, I think that should be “pithekoid.”

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