Machine Dreams

[Image: A Mars polar panorama, taken by the Phoenix lander. Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona].

Two unrelated bits of news this week strangely merged for me, to surreal effect.
First, we learned that two monkeys were able to move a robotic arm “merely by thinking.” The arm, which included “working shoulder and elbow joints and a clawlike ‘hand’,” was controllable after “probes the width of a human hair were inserted into the neuronal pathways of the monkeys’ motor cortex.”
This field of research is referred to as “mind-controlled robotic prosthetics” – but the mind in control here is not human.
Second, the New York Times reported that “NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander has successfully lifted its robotic arm” up there on the surface of another planet.
“Testing the arm will take a few days,” we read, “and the first scoops of Martian soil are to be dug up next week.”
And while I know that these stories are not connected, putting them together is like something from a Thomas Pynchon novel: monkeys locked in a room somewhere, controlling the arms of machines on other planets.

[Image: A mountainous horizon; photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona].

As if we might discover, at the end of the day, that NASA wasn’t a human organization at all – it was a bunch of rhesus monkeys locked in a lab somewhere, enthroned amidst wires and brain-caps, like some new sign of the Tarot, lost in private visions of machines on alien worlds. An experiment gone awry.
Their “dreams” at night are actually video feeds from probes moving through outer darkness.

6 thoughts on “Machine Dreams”

  1. When I first read about the mind control work with monkeys a year or two ago, I had them piloting flying rocket sleds on military missions. I’m glad to hear that as the work has advanced, researchers are finding more peaceful applications for their research.

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