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Monkeys control a robot arm with thoughts

May 29, 2008 |  6:26 pm

Now that's a headline that makes you do a double-take to make sure you aren't mistakenly reading the Onion!

We won't be the first to express fascination with the remarkable monkey robot-arm study that has circulated this week, but let us fill you in: Two monkeys have been trained to control a prosthetic arm with nothing but their thoughts, transmitted through an electronic sensor in the brain, as the New York Times reports.

The video, above, from University of Pittsburgh scientists, shows a monkey, with its arms restrained, using, as some have rather sensationally called it, "mind control" to snack on marshmallows.

The results of the study were released Wednesday in the science journal Nature, but have since swept the media, prompting everything from idealism over its practical applications for amputees to fears of a takeover by legions of University of Pittsburgh-trained half-machine, half-monkey soldiers of fortune who slay for marshmallows.

While the footage alone is rather compelling, the research is not so advanced, as Knight Science Journalism Tracker's blog put it, that "docs can just patch Stephen Hawking’s skull and his robot appliance will pick up chalk and start sketching trajectories through the space-time continuum."

We'll give Nature a few more years to publish that study.

-- Tony Barboza

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