Scientists Find Rats Perform Better Than A.I. or All-Natural Rats at Maze Test

Computer-controlled rats outperform algorithms and regular rodents in a new study on augmenting intelligence.

Despite what movies like Blade Runner and Ex Machina might predict, the quest for supreme intelligence won’t come down to a competition between biology and robots: Instead, it’ll come down to a merger of the two. By creating and testing rat cyborgs — seriously — artificial intelligence overlords publishing in the journal PLoS One discovered that while rats and computers may be pretty smart on their own, combined, they’re unbeatable.

In the study, the research team from China’s Zhejiang University set up a maze-solving competition between trained rats, a computer algorithm, and “computer-aided” rats — the cyborgs. The unaided and slightly dehydrated rats learned their way through the mazes by following the scent of peanut butter to the finish line, where they were rewarded with a sip of water. The maze-solving computer algorithm relied on a series of left-hand and right-hand wall-following rules to find its way out.

The rat cyborgs, an ungodly combination of the two, were trained to go through the mazes like their regular counterparts, but they were assisted by the algorithm, which was configured to force the rats to move left or right by stimulating the somatosensory cortex in the brain.

Comparing the number of times the rats, algorithm, and cyborgs had to retrace their steps, one thing became clear: The fusion of biology and artificial intelligence is unbeatable.

“These results provide a proof-of-principle demonstration for cyborg intelligence,” the authors write, suggesting that their new system could eventually be useful in “search and rescue in complex terrains.”

But of course, the implications are far greater than that: This finding is proof that computer algorithms can synergize with biological systems to achieve intelligence greater than the two.

It isn’t the first time biological cyborgs have been created by scientists — robo-cockroaches and computerized moths have been created before — but the rats present a major step for intelligent subjects. It’s only a matter of time before humans are next.

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