'Brain in a Dish Flies Plane,' Brains on Twitter Are Wowed

More

The technological sublime -- via airplanes, rat brains, and tweets

[optional image description]
University of Florida/Ray Carson via Discovery News

In 1992, Steve Potter, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, developed a hybrid robot. The cybernetic organism -- which came to be referred to as a "hybrot" -- consisted of both biological and technological elements: On the robot side, it had hardware and software, and on the biological side, it had rat neurons and incubators for those neurons. The computer was programmed to respond to the neuron impulses. And the result of this was, essentially, a "rat-brained" robot that was able to manifest neuronal activity with physical motion. Dr. Potter's creation marked the first instance in which cultured neurons were used to control a robotic mechanism.

In 2004, that work was moved forward -- through an experiment that used rat neurons not just for movement, but for learning. Researchers at the University of Florida created a living "brain" of cultured rat cells ... and used them to control an F-22 fighter jet flight simulator. [Insert your preferred "WHAAA?" reaction here.]

That story is now nearly eight years old, but -- thanks to some hits on Reddit and a tweet from William Gibson -- it's gotten a new burst of life today. And that's not surprising. As a story rather than a news story, this has it all: cyborgs, robots, airplanes, rats. And as a story, it is a particularly Internet-friendly incarnation of what David Nye calls the "technological sublime": that sense of the power and opportunity embedded in the tools we create to extend ourselves into the world. The awe of augmentation -- the communion we experience, confronted with our greatest technologies, that is so powerful it is almost spiritual.

There's a little bit of that sense in Twitter's reaction to the RAT FLYING PLANE story: a sense of wonder at science fiction becoming fact, of the impossible being executed in a petri dish. The conversation is illustrative and kind of wonderful. Below, assorted reactions to the story that is Brains Flying Planes:

Awe:

Panic:

Cultural connection:

Humor:

Hesitation:

Resignation:

A combination of all of the above:

Hat tip @faketv.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In