The amazing results reported in this piece from New Scientist, “Rat cyborg gets digital cerebellum,” haven’t yet been published in a scientific journal, but were reported in a meeting in the UK. The details are sketchy, but scientists apparently built a computer chip using information from the inputs of a rat’s brainstem to its cerebellum as as well the output generated by its input. (The cerebellum, a lumpy part of our brain located underneath and at the rear, is, among other things, responsible for motor control of the body based on input from the brainstem.) How they got this information onto a chip is also unclear to me, but I trust some readers will enlighten us.
Once they made the artificial cerebellum-chip, they used it to see if it could substitute for the real one in an elementary brain-processing task. As the journal describes:
To test the chip, they anaesthetised a rat and disabled its cerebellum before hooking up their synthetic version. They then tried to teach the anaesthetised animal a conditioned motor reflex – a blink – by combining an auditory tone with a puff of air on the eye, until the animal blinked on hearing the tone alone. They first tried this without the chip connected, and found the rat was unable to learn the motor reflex. But once the artificial cerebellum was connected, the rat behaved as a normal animal would, learning to connect the sound with the need to blink.
The journal also reports that another group used electronics to replace lost memory in rats.
While there are substantial differences in how brains process information versus computers, there isn’t any reason why computer chips couldn’t replace many of the functions of the brain. It’s intriguing to contemplate, for example, the possibility that a computer chip might one day help blind people to see, or improve memory in those with diminished capacity.