Rat Brain Flies Plane

Alas, Electronic News, we hardly knew ye: RIP.OK, this subject was just too good to pass up, if for no other reason than using the above headline. We opted for a toned-down headline when we borrowed this story from our British counterparts (Electronics Weekly), but I just couldn’t let it go.

After all, back in the day I coined the headline “Industry Gets Jiggy with SiGe.” A former Electronic News editor had to be convinced that it was not a naughty reference or otherwise some sort of vague sexual euphemism, but as you can see, it ran. As a newspaper refugee and dyed-in-the-wool smart aleck, I readily admit that I live for this sort of thing.

But beyond the eyebrow raising headline opportunity, the implications of this neural network story boggle the mind. If a neural network based on cultured rat brain cells can pilot a fighter-jet simulator, it’s not hard to make the leap to self-driving, rat brain-controlled cars or even entire rat-brain-based transportation networks. Perhaps a rat brain neural network can finally get the world’s trains and planes to run on time.

Maybe we’ll even have rat brains at the heart of our smart refrigerators someday.

I can see it now. In the not-too-distant future I’ll be sitting in a Silicon Valley coffee shop or waiting in line for a plane at San Francisco International and somebody will just have to bust out their rat brain-based smartphone. “Is that Bluetooth enabled?” someone will ask. “No,” will come the smug reply. “It’s hamster enhanced.”

Mickey Mouse pilot: Walt Disney foresaw the rat-brain neural transportation network.But I can’t help but wonder if all this will open technology up to a whole new host of problems. For example, in the future could terrorists spread the plague via our broad rat brain-based neural networks?

Stem cell research may have been a hot button issue with conservative voters in the 2004 election, but if the Republicans want to stay in power in 2008, they better start spreading the fear about rat brain neural networks post haste. I can hear the campaign commercials already: “John Q. Democrat supports rat brain neural network research, which would leave America vulnerable to attack. If he wins, the terrorists win too.”

And before the e-mail flurry begins, let me just say I’m a registered independent, affiliated with no party whatsoever. I’m a bi-partisan satirist. And before I get scads of indignant e-mail from humorless left-brain research types, let me offer a preemptive lighten-up; it won’t ruin your data to laugh once in awhile.

Anyway, maybe we should start now on developing rival cat brain neural networks that could attack rat brain-based networks, just in case the plague terror scenario happens. Remember what happened last time we didn’t have enough cats when the plague was floating around? Or were you not paying attention in history class?

Another issue to worry about in a rat brain-neural networked world is how would we feed and culture all these rat brain cells? I think perhaps I’ll move my entire portfolio into cheese futures.

Imagine: someone will be driving home from work when they get a call on their hamster enhanced phone. “Honey, the ‘fridge says we’re out of cheese again; can you stop by the store and pick some up?” their spouse will ask. “Gee whiz, didn’t we just buy a pound of cheese last week?”

And just think. Someday in the not-too-distant future, you could be stranded at a crowded airport over a holiday because your plane’s rat brain is down. I’ll bet all my future cheese-derived income that this is a scenario that Orville and Wilbur never envisioned.

Welcome to a brave new world.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

Editor’s Note Part the Second: Here’s more rat-brain-neural-network-piloting coverage from Discovery.

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