Humans Can Now Control Turtles” Minds

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February 20, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: February 20 on

Korean researchers develop a technology to remotely control an animal”s movement with human thought.

In the 2009 blockbuster “Avatar,” a human remotely controls the body of an alien. It does so by injecting human intelligence into a remotely located, biological body. Although still in the realm of science fiction, researchers are nevertheless developing so-called ”brain-computer interfaces” (BCIs) following recent advances in electronics and computing. These technologies can ”read” and use human thought to control machines, for example, humanoid robots.

New research has demonstrated the possibility of combining a BCI with a device that transmits information from a computer to a brain, or a so-called ”computer-to-brain interface” (CBI). The combination of these devices could be used to establish a functional link between the brains of different species. Now, researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a human-turtle interaction system in which a signal originating from a human brain can affect where a turtle moves.

Unlike previous research that has tried to control animal movement by applying invasive methods, most notably in insects, KAIST researchers propose a conceptual system that can guide an animal”s moving path by controlling its instinctive escape behaviour. They chose the turtle because of its cognitive abilities as well as its ability to distinguish different wavelengths of light. Specifically, turtles can recognize a white light source as an open space and so move toward it. They also show specific avoidance behaviour to things that might obstruct their view. Turtles also move toward and away from obstacles in their environment in a predictable manner. It was this instinctive, predictable behaviour that the researchers induced using the BCI.

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