back to article Give 1,000 monkeys typewriters, they'll write Shakespeare. Give them robot arms, and wait – they actually did that?

Amputee monkeys have been trained to control robotic arms with their minds using an advanced brain-computer interface, a group of researchers has claimed. A paper published in Nature Communications on Monday describes an experiment with three Rhesus macaque monkeys (Macaca Mulatta) that were previously involved in accidents …

  1. Florida1920
    WTF?

    WTF happened to these monkeys

    That they have so many amputees to experiment on? "Accidents" isn't enough.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      "three" is not "so many", is it?

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      They accidentally got caught in a monkey supplier's net. Still, it's good to know that there's now a market for the rejects.

      Nah, they're vicious little bastards who would bite your finger off for shits and giggles. I've no sympathy.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

        Nah, they're vicious little bastards who would bite your finger off for shits and giggles. I've no sympathy.

        True. That's why I believe that they had limbless lab monkeys available.

        They're just as vicious to each other, and in a lab cage with no where for the victim to run to...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      I'm with Florida1920 on this - you can't use 'wild' primates for research, so just how common are 'accidents' to the arms of Rhesus Macaque monkeys bred in captivity for research?

      You wouldn't normally use an injured test subject for a research project either; it would be more usual to start with a healthy test subject, in this case with all four limbs, and then amputate one.

    4. K Silver badge

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      100% agree... When I saw "were previously involved in accidents", my first thought was, home convenient, just when the researchers needed them.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: how convenient...

        The ones who failed the motor speed test which involved grabbing a peanut placed on the other side of the razor sharp fan blade.

        Or were they ones the police were training to leap out of treetops to wrestle rogue quad-copters to the ground?

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

        "Hey Fred, I need some monkeys with an arm missing, got anything like that in stock?"

        "Hmm, let me check & get back to you in a few days. If I do turn any up they'll probably cost a bit more, being hard to find, OK?"

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: If I do turn any up they'll probably cost a bit more...

          A few days later...

          "Yep, got some. They will cost an arm and a leg."

      3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

        It actually does sound to me like they started with injured monkeys rather than simply amputating the limbs of healthy monkeys. The reason is that they noted that the connection was made to the opposite side of the amputated limb on two of the monkeys so there really isn't much obvious need to use an amputee other than the third monkey who was connected on the side of the amputation.

        The results show that the connections between the neurons on the same side as the amputated arm were sparse before training as the absent limb was rarely exercised. But as the monkey was trained, the connections in the brain’s area used for reaching and grasping got more dense.

        This leads me to believe that some time had passed between injury and experiment and while it doesn't preclude amputation for this specific experiment it doesn't make much sense to wait however long it takes for the neurons to become sparse after the amputation.

    5. SVV Silver badge

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      Good point. But the monkeys have learned to control robots with their brains and humans haven't, and revenge will be theirs when the rise of the robots actually happens.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

        Planet of the Robosimian?

      2. cray74

        Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

        But the monkeys have learned to control robots with their brains and humans haven't, and revenge will be theirs when the rise of the robots actually happens.

        There's no way this could end well.

        1. Captain DaFt

          Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

          There's no way this could end well.

          Two words - Cyborg monkey butlers!

          (OK, that was three words, I'm a heavy tipper) ☺

    6. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      It is easy to be suspicious and cynical but I would offset that in noting they had neuron clusters which had adapted to one arm use so they were not recent traumatic events. [ cross-posted with Eddy Ito ]

      I cannot however totally put my cynicism aside, can too easily imagine, "when you are done with those monkeys you have cut an arm off; drag them over here".

    7. Squeensnex
      Windows

      Re: WTF happened to these monkeys

      The article says "we used unilaterally amputated monkeys that had undergone therapeutic amputation several years (two of them with 9 to 10 years and a third monkey over 4 years) before they arrived in our lab." It doesn't sound like they were amputated for the study, and the length of amputation is relevant to eventual studies in humans, who may have been missing a limb for a long time.

      I think they used electrodes in either "contralateral" or"ipsilateral" motor cortex to study the reorganization of neuronal circuitry that was (ipsilateral) or wasn't (contralateral) controlling an intact arm at the time. The reorganization was different in the two cases.

      While people do have brain electrodes permanently implanted to help control Parkinson's disease (deep brain stimulation), having electrodes implanted isn't for the faint of heart!

  2. Sanctimonious Prick
    WTF?

    Photographs!

    It didn't happen, otherwise!

    :)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Give an infinite number of monkeys and infinite number of typewriters

    And you'll end up with an infinitely large pile of broken typewriters covered in monkey shit.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Give an infinite number of monkeys and infinite number of typewriters

      One handed monkeys can still post on facebook...

  4. Pete 2

    One small step

    > One day the same technology can be used to help human amputees control robotic prosthetics with the brain,

    And presumably the next stage after that would be to train monkeys (or people) with a full set of limbs to control a remote robotic arm. Possibly for remote controlled surgery. Possibly to work in hazardous areas. Possibly to "walk" a robot across the surface of the Moon.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given enough monkeys, time and evolution, you'll end up with Shakespeare anyway.

    1. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

      The way I heard it was:

      "It has often been said that

      '...given sufficient time, a sufficient number of monkeys on typewriters will reproduce the works of Shakespeare...'

      Now, thanks to the internet, we know that simply isn't true..."

    2. Garymrrsn

      Give an infinite number of monkeys and infinite number of typewriters

      "Given enough monkeys, time and evolution, you'll end up with Shakespeare anyway."

      In fact, after only about 13 million years, a descendant of a chimpanzee's ancestor did write all of Shakespeare's plays.

  6. Vinyl-Junkie
    Coat

    I think this improbable...

    "Ford, there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet..."

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clarification required

    by "infinite number of monkeys" ... is that a countable or uncountable infinity?

    1. John H Woods

      Re: Clarification required

      It's countable of course ... unlike the number of teams they form

  8. Mike 125

    Phhht. Shakespeare thinks he's so great.

    >Give 1,000 monkeys typewriters, they'll write Shakespeare.

    Question is, how long would it take before they write "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees."?

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Phhht. Shakespeare thinks he's so great.

      Question is, how long would it take before they write "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees."?

      Couldn't tell you. I'm to busy keeping my eye on the one that keeps typing, "All work and no play makes macaque a dull boy." over and over again.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1000 monkeys

    Wasn't there a short story involving some eccentric nutter who tried to test the theory? ISTR that the protagonist was driven mad when the monkeys proceeded to churn out works of Shakespeare instead of random gibberish.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 1000 monkeys

      BTW, Reg, the thousand monkeys joke predates "The Simpsons" by decades. You need to get away from the TV.

    2. WereWoof

      Re: 1000 monkeys

      I recall a story called Toby (or it may have been Qwerty) , about a typewriter that was owned by a monkey that died, and his spirit possessed the typewriter and the new owner of the typewriter observed it typing "Qwerty" repeatedly then eventually it typed "Toby or Not Toby", I have no idea who wrote it, I believe I read it in a pulp magazine many many years ago.

  10. Andy the ex-Brit

    Hemispheres?

    I've read this twice, and it seems like "same side" and "opposite side" are backwards here. I'm assuming that monkeys are sufficiently similar to humans that the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right arm, and vice versa.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Hemispheres?

      Yup, we accidentally got it wrong - it's been corrected. Don't forget to email corrections@theregister.com if you spot any mistakes.

      C.

  11. Dr_N Silver badge

    Squirrels.

    Let's all just be thankful these lunatic researchers aren't giving robotic limbs to squirrels.

    Because then we'd all be in a whole other world of hurt.

    The evil bastids.

    1. Patched Out

      Re: Squirrels.

      Squirrels don't need prosthetics:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7U2aVUAqPI

      "Hold On to Your Nuts."

  12. Andrew Punch
    Terminator

    Rise of the planet of the apes

    and the machines

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Head in a jar...

    Welcome to eternity!

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