Research, Technology

Rats were taught to play the computer game Doom II

Rats are considered one of the smartest animalswhose abilities are comparable to those of dogs, crows and even primates. Scientists have recently found that they are even capable of mutual assistance. They lend themselves well to training, which allows them to be trained to perform tasks that are quite difficult for animals. For example, in Mozambique they are used to detect deadly mines. But, neuroengineer Victor Toth went even further, he taught rats to pass the level in the legendary computer game Doom II. The rat has learned to shoot demons in the virtual world and find exit points. To translate the movements and thoughts of the rats into actions on the monitor screen, the engineer created a special installation, which he called "VR for rats." Its basis was the so-called trackball, located in front of a large curved monitor. It is a rotating ball on which the animal is placed. When you run or walk, the ball rotates, and the sensors detect the movement and transfer it into the game. For the successful completion of actions, the rat received a reward.

Scientist taught a rat to complete a level in the legendary shooter Doom II

How rats were brought to virtual reality

Viktor Tot not only created the “VR forrats ”, but also wrote detailed instructions on how to create it, which is published on the Mindsoft resource. To prevent the rat from falling off the trackball, a robotic arm holds it by the vest. In front of the rat is a pipe through which sugar water is supplied as a reward for successful actions in the game. It should be noted that the rat experienced intense thirst during training. Therefore, the sugar-coated water was a powerful motivator for her.

A rat rig for playing computer games

As the engineer notes, the most difficult thing wasimplement the shooting process. The animal does not understand that shooting is an act of murder, even if it is a virtual character. Therefore, it was decided to teach the animal to perceive the presence of a demon as a source of reward. As a result, the animal perceives the shooting as a signal that it is possible to “milk” the premium cow. When a shot hits an enemy, it brings a reward.

Also, the engineer provided for a punishment thatIt is expressed in the form of a decrease in the reward or an unpleasant breath of air in the rat's face, so that it is uncomfortable when the enemy attacks. In addition, the punishment system was used to prevent the rat from firing mindlessly at everything in order to receive a reward.

“If the ratio of rewards and punishments is balanced, the rat must learn to actively shoot demons, while avoiding their blows,” says Victor Toth.

As the author notes, rats pulled for decadesleverage to earn a treat and stop getting electroshocked, so there’s nothing new in his idea. The rat carries out the shot itself by nodding the head, which is fixed by the sensors. In addition to sensors and sensors, the engineer implanted electrodes to ensure accurate recording of actions and stimulation during the learning process.

To teach a rat to play, a neuroengineer implanted electrodes in the animal's brain

That is, the electrodes help not only fixthe animal's intentions to perform a particular action, but also allowed the rat to be trained to perform certain actions for weeks or months. For example, to stimulate an involuntary nod of the head, the author used an electrode implanted in the subthalamic nucleus.

How rats fought evil spirits in Doom II

The engineer used a customa simplified version of Doom II that contained only straight corridors and one exit. There were only a few enemies on the map, and they were motionless. In the process of training, the enemies did not attack, but simply stood in the corridor and prevented the rat from moving further. Perhaps in the future, the rat will be able to master a more complex version of the game.

According to Viktor Toth, he ran out of time,to reinforce the action of shooting in the rat. In general, the animal coped with the task - it learned all the in-game actions and was able to pass the level. But the main thing in this work is not at all the cognitive abilities of rodents. The solutions developed in this project can also be used on humans.

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In theory, the inventions of an engineer can helpthe development of prosthetics and human-computer interfaces, which will make life easier for people with disabilities. In addition, the brain stimulation technologies used by the author of the work can also be used to accelerate the teaching of people to certain skills. Finally, let me remind you that earlier in the Neuralink laboratory, a monkey with a chip implanted in the brain also plays computer games. Moreover, the implanted chip allows you to control the game using the power of thought.