Scientists Create Monkey Avatar

Link primates with computer chips

Feb 20, 2014
Outside Magazine

Scientists created a master monkey that uses mind control to move an avatar.   

Real avatars have started to appear more quickly than even James Cameron might have expected.

In an experiment we’d rather not imagine, scientists used computer chips to link two monkeys together, allowing one primate’s brain to control the other’s body.  

Although it might sound gruesome, the researchers hope their work—partly inspired by Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar—will help patients with nerve or spinal paralysis.

To pull off this mind-control feat, the team implanted a microchip in the “master” monkey’s brain so it could control the avatar’s movements. The avatar had a chip plugged into its spinal cord.

"So the hookup was basically a computational link where we … matched everything that the monkey, that the master, was thinking about, and then matched that with movements produced in the avatar,” says Harvard neurosurgeon Ziv Williams, who co-authored the study. "It was actually through a computer interface, but in theory you could do it wirelessly as well."

The study looked only at movement in animals, but if subsequent trials are successful, scientists could bring the research to paralyzed human arms or robotic limbs.

Suddenly Avatar 2 doesn’t seem so futuristic anymore.

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