Scientists make monkeys smarter using brain implants [link]

Article at io9. The paper is available here.

The researchers showed monkeys specific images and then trained them to select those images out of a larger set after a time delay. They recorded the monkeys’ brain function to determine which signals were important. The experiment tests the monkey’s performance on this task in different cases, as described by io9:

Once they were satisfied that the correct mapping had been done, they administered cocaine to the monkeys to impair their performance on the match-to-sample task (seems like a rather severe drug to administer, but there you have it). Immediately, the monkeys’ performance fell by a factor of 20%.

It was at this point that the researchers engaged the neural device. Specifically, they deployed a “multi-input multi-output nonlinear” (MIMO) model to stimulate the neurons that the monkeys needed to complete the task. The inputs of this device monitored such things as blood flow, temperature, and the electrical activity of other neurons, while the outputs triggered the individual neurons required for decision making. Taken together, the i/​o model was able to predict the output of the cortical neurons — and in turn deliver electrical stimulation to the right neurons at the right time.

And incredibly, it worked. The researchers successfully restored the monkeys’ decision-making skills even though they were still dealing with the effects of the cocaine. Moreover, when duplicating the experiment under normal conditions, the monkeys’ performance improved beyond the 75% proficiency level shown earlier. In other words, a kind of cognitive enhancement had happened.

This research is a remarkable followup to research that was done in rodents last year.