Saturday, June 2, 2007

Cybernetic flying poop machines

Of course, I'm referring to pigeons. Cybernetic pigeons. Should this be filed under "Because We Can"?
I can't find any info on what they are stimulating, but the story linked here to Practical Neurotechnology says it is not MFB stimulation. It is highly doubtful that this is direct motor cortex stimulation for a number of reasons (pigeons are considered to have a 'real' motor cortex, but the highly coordinated movements would be awfully tough to trigger on the fly). MFB, for those not in 'the know', is the Medial Forebrain Bundle, a collection of processes running from the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens. This pathway represents one of the biggest dopamine-carrying routes in the brain, and connects many of the areas involved in narcotic and addiction research. The earliest reward system experiments used MFB intracranial self stimulation under various environmental and drug-administration situations. Stimulating the MFB increases 'reward' sensation, and has been thought of as the site of potential 'control' signals - do the right thing and good human gets his juice.

A third method for controlling action, aside from MFB or MI stimulation, is vestibular nerve stimulation. Give a person the feeling that they are falling, and they will move to counteract that feeling. This technique is non-invasive, but pretty crude. NTT/Docomo has been working on the technology as one of their fun projects, and there's a first person account here.

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