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Straight Outta Black Mirror? Old Video of Robot Controlled by Rat Brain Resurfaces

Screengrab of the video showing the robot. Credits: YouTube.

Screengrab of the video showing the robot. Credits: YouTube.

The video is from 2008 and according to the text written on it, it was recorded in a laboratory in Surrey, England.

Imagine you wake up in a lab. People around you, who appear to be scientists, are staring at you. Scared, you try to run away, but you only run around. A person is following you with a camera. You feel like you are trapped in a nightmare and you cannot get out. You may think that this is a plot of a science fiction film but it is actually what is happening to a rat’s brain in a video that has gone viral on Reddit. The video is from 2008 and according to the text written on it, it was recorded in a laboratory in Surrey, England. In the footage, a small robotic device with green LEDs and wheels can be seen in the hands of a person sitting in a lab. As soon as the person puts the robot on the floor, it starts moving. Its quick movement and navigation appear similar to that of a mouse. The robot moves around on the floor of the lab and when it comes across obstructions in its path, turns back. Its repetitive movement makes it seem like the robot is confused and learning. According to the text on the video, the robot is controlled by a rat’s brain that is kept in a bell jar. The rat’s brain and the robot communicate using Bluetooth. The sensors on the robot send data to the rat’s brain, and the rat’s brain sends commands back for the robot to execute - mostly moving using its wheels.

The video also claims that this is “the only robot (at the time) that can truly learn.” It is further explained in the video that since the neurons can only stay alive for about three months, several rat brains were used to control the robot. Interestingly, with each new brain, the robot behaved differently.

Reacting to the viral video that has been upvoted more than 85 thousand times, a Reddit user commented, “That rat is living in a black mirror hell.” While another user tried to explain that it is not a whole rat brain but cultured neurons taken from a rat brain, the commenters wondered what the brain was thinking. Others argued if the robot was sentient and capable of thinking.

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first published:August 30, 2021, 14:48 IST