Monkey plays pong just by thinking about it

Earlier today I talked with my friend Bruno, who told me about an unusual monkey. Unusual to me, anyway.

This monkey had electrodes inserted into his brain, and then they got him to play a favourite game of his: pong. As he played pong, he was rewarded with banana juice, which made him enjoy it even more.

He played pong with a lever. While he was doing this, they analysed his brainwaves and learned to decypher these brainwaves in real time, and used the result to control the movement of the pong thingy on the screen.

Then, they unplugged the lever. The monkey carried on using the lever because he still assumed that this was how he was controlling the pong thingy, but actually he was controlling what happened on the screen only with his brain. The same signals he was sending to his hand were being interpreted by the computer, with the result that what the monkey saw on the screen was unchanged.

The final step was to remove the lever, and get the monkey to carry on playing pong, which he was now able to do merely by thinking of how he would have controlled the lever. That worked. And there you have it, technology controlled by pure brain activity.

Video here. The application they talk about is to help people get around being paraplegic. But think about it, and you’ll soon realise that there are many, many more amazing ways that this sort of brain-only techno-control could be made to work and to change the world.

If you’ve heard about this before, fine. I too have heard about such stuff before. The difference, for me, was how clearly Bruno explained the successive stages of how they made all this work.

The man writing out the cheques for all this – or whatever you do these days to pay for things – is Elon Musk. Who, I understand, is also becoming quite successful with his rockets. So, it’s only a bit of a stretch to say that Musk is now big both in brain surgery and rocket science.

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