Weird Science: Artificial Cerebellum to Fly a Plane

They’ve created an artificial cerebellum for a rat. What exactly does that mean?

Well, the cerebellum is part of the hindbrain, the primitive reptilian brain that we hear so much about. According to Wikipedia, the cerebellum “plays an important role in motor control. It may also be involved in some cognitive functions such as attention and language, and in regulating fear and pleasure responses.”

Sure fear and pleasure are primitive functions, but language? Doesn’t sound so primitive to me. I think it’s safe to say that an artificial cerebellum is not just the reptilian brain. However, in this case, we’re talking about a rat cerebellum, not a human cerebellum, so any language skills are going to be limited to squeaks and eyeblinks. I suppose.

Still fashioning a fake cerebellum has to be a milestone on the road to artificial brainware.

As per the SENS Foundation website that published the paper, Matti Minz at the Tel Aviv University, “replaced in a rat the cerebellar microcircuit essential for acquisition of eyeblink response by a biomimetic cerebellar model that received its sensory inputs from the PN and IO precerebellar nuclei and which send its output to the brainstem motor nucleus.”

Basically they removed the rat’s cerebellum, hooked a circuit board up to receive incoming signals from the rat’s eyeball when it received stimulation in the form of a puff of air. The circuit board then sent a signal to the brainstem to tell the rat to blink.

In a totally unrelated but even stranger story from a few years ago, here’s a rat brain flying an airplane. It’s not a real airplane, just a processor somewhere running a simulated airplane program. And it’s not the rat hooked up to anything, it’s a few neurons from a rat’s brain. And it appears limited in its abilities as “they can’t even remember how to fly that aircraft for more than about 15 minutes.” Regardless, pretty impressive.

So on the one hand we’re using software to replace rat intelligence and on the other we’re using real biological rat brains to run software. Is that what they mean by circular reasoning?

Don’t these two projects cancel each other out? I think the two research groups should get together for a beer. Or something else that counts for progress.

Thanks for reading.

Sue Lange

This essay was first posted on December 28, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog.

Download a free epub, mobi, or pdf of Sue Lange’s wicked satire short fiction, PremiumExistenceTM, right here at good ol’ BVC.

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