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Researchers interact with rats by becoming virtual rats themselves

George Dvorsky
By George Dvorsky
Ethical Technology

Posted: Nov 2, 2012

A wise man once said, “In order for us to understand the rat, we must become the rat.” Now, it’s quite possible that no one has ever actually said this, but that doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that it’s the driving sentiment behind a project that’s seeking to bridge the gap that’s separating us humans from rodents. By using telepresence, immersive virtual reality, and robotic technologies, researchers are hoping to see things from a rat’s point of view.

The technique, which was developed by Mandayam Srinivasan and computer scientists working at UCL and the University of Barcelona, call it “beaming.” It works by having two different subjects, one human and one rodent, interact with each other through a virtual reality interface.

The experiment worked like this:

Human participants were asked to put on a head mounted VR display and interact with a virtual human that appeared on their screen. But this human wasn’t a human at all — it was a digital representation of a rat.

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George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.
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