Snails for Brains

Time for another edition of "Science Marches On" ... clomp-clomp-clomping right over our sense of human uniqueness, and maybe over our own humanity.

Why should science give a damn about notions of human primacy in the natural scheme of things when it has snail brains and silicon chips to play with? The Washington Post brings us breaking news from Germany about an exciting new interface that has been developed between biology and technology. For the first time, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry have found a way to mesh neurons from living brain cells with tiny electronic transistors. The upshot of the discovery is that, at a primitive level, the brain cells and the mechanical chips "spoke" to each other.

This is exciting, we're told by the Keepers of Science, because it "might help build computers as inventive and adaptable as our nervous systems and a generation of robots that might deserve to be called intelligent." Excellent. Good to know that we have something to give to the evolution of the robots that'll replace us, even if it's only our neurons. But wait ... we humans aren't necessary at all! It was not the neurons of human brain cells that connected with the silicon chips -- it was neurons lifted from snail brains. It turns out that snail neurons are larger than ours! Oh, the humiliation -- we're being outwitted and done in by the common garden slug!

It's reported that the scientists used teenie-tiny tools to lift neurons from snail brains, puff them onto the chips, then -- and I quote directly -- they "built tiny picket fences around the neurons to keep them in place." Sounds like to me somebody's got way too much time and waaay too much government funding on their hands. Nonetheless, they plan to build a much larger robotic brain-like system using 15,000 snail neurons.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... I wonder if the new smart robots will leave little slimey trails as they move along?

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.