Wednesday, April 20, 2005

brainwashed remote control animals to sniff out explosives

scientists are currently working with different kinds of animals to teach them to sniff out explosives. some of the most promising candidates are cyborg brainwashed rats - rats that wear small electronic "backpacks" with wires leading into their brain. one wire goes to the area controlling their left whiskers, one wire to their right, and one wire into their pleasure center. by remote control, a scientist can make the rat think that its whiskers are being stimulated, and when the rat happens to walk in the direction of the whisker stimulation - left or right- they fire a blast into the reward center of the rat's brain, making if feel pleasure, effectively training it to follow orders. this does not exactly force the rat to turn, but rather sets up an intensely strong artificial system of reward as incentive.

the rats are also taught to feel pleasure when they smell the warm scent of bombs. now, let the pack of remote controlled rats loose on a mine field, and the rats will find the bombs on their own. the researchers are still working out how to discover exactly when a rat has found a bomb - they can control it, but they can't read its mind. the leading idea is that the rat would have a small button on its electronic "backpack" that it would be taught to press in return for pleasure whenever it smells or finds a bomb.

the most sci-fi thing about the robo rats is that they are also beginning to attach small cameras to the robo-rats' backs, creating tiny cyborgs that could one day be effective as spies.

scientists are also looking into other animals other than rats for sniffing out bombs. traditionally dogs are used for explosive sniffing, but dogs are expensive and reproduce slowly. other bomb sniffing animals in the works include wasps, honeybees, and even yeast, which can be genetically engineered to smell, and also glow when it is near explosives.

full article at fortune magazine, "dolittle's raiders"

idea via we make money not art

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