Brain-computer interfaces are going to very soon make our current computing technology look like clay tablets. Why use your crude, germ-covered hands to clumsily paw away at keyboards and mice when you can simply use your brain to check Reddit? Of course, your brain does control your hands, but you get it… Experiment after experiment has shown that these systems are viable for all sorts of applications ranging from increasing our brains’ attention span and information processing abilities to telepathically sharing your hipster food pics with your Facebook friends. Sure, the thought of human-to-human technological telepathy is pretty neat, but what about using computers to communicate with animals? Our attempts to teach them signed or spoken language haven’t had the best results, after all.
In what could be a weird first step in that direction, a team of South Korean engineers and neuroscientists have developed a brain-computer interface system which allows humans to control the movements of turtles using only their thoughts. Their methods and results have been published in the Journal of Bionic Engineering. Don’t worry: the experiment was approved by the Korean Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee Board. No turtles were harmed during the experiment – just thoroughly freaked out.
In the experiment, human controllers wore a consumer-level EEG headset and a retail VR display. The same system was used in a prior study by the same researchers to control a humanoid robot. The turtles, meanwhile, wore a “cyborg system” consisting of a camera, Wi-Fi transceiver, and a weird black cage which would trigger the animals’ escape instinct.
The cage has an opening large enough for the turtles’ heads, and the turtles instinctively try to crawl towards that opening. By remotely moving the opening with their minds, researchers successfully ‘steered’ the turtles through an obstacle course.
Just think of the possibilities. Seemingly innocuous animals could have explosives or surveillance devices implanted in them and human controllers can guide them to targets from miles away with their minds. Sure, it might sound far-fetched – but then again, weaponized animal experiments are nothing new in the history of warfare. Bat bombs, plague rats, anti-tank dogs, and pigeon-guided missiles are just some of the macabre creations military scientists have dreamed up or even put onto the battlefield. The U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program which used dolphins for reconnaissance and mine detection is well-documented. Mind-controlled animals could soon be yet another example of this long, strange tradition of using our animal brethren in our silly little squabbles against one another.