Rodents have been the dominant models used in researches across the science field, specifically in biomedical and neuroscience research, for over a century. They are widely used in studies because they share remarkably similar structural and functional processes with humans. In additionally, using rodents allows researchers to ask and answer certain questions that would be difficult or even impossible to do with humans due to ethical issues. Although animal research is tightly regulated in the United States, there are still concerns raised by the general public regarding the increasing number of animal researches.
In a recent study conducted at the Florida Atlantic University, robots were tested and used to replace rats in lab research. A cognitive psychologist, Elan Barenholtz, along with a computer scientist, William Hahn, run a few classic psychology experiments using robots that were equipped with artificial intelligence in place of lab rats. They tested the robot’s ability to model live rats by conducting the classic experiment of “The Skinner Box”. “The Skinner Box” experiment is an experiment conducted by B. F. Skinner to test his theory on operant conditioning in animals. Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviors. Through the use of rewards and punishments, individual develops an association between a particular behavior and a consequence. In Skinner’s study, hungry rats were placed in a box that contained a lever for food. As the rat begins to explore around the box, it would knock the lever by accident which releases food. Eventually, the rats learned to directly go to the lever to get food as food worked as a positive reinforcement strengthening a particular behavior.
Instead of using mice, robots were used in Barenholtz and Hahn’s experiment. Robots were placed in a box with colors on various sides of wall, they were then rewarded when facing the correct direction. This shows that using these AI equipped robots are in fact capable of performing similar tasks to lab rats. However, in studies on more complex processes, the robots aren't able to replicate the same mechanisms as in rats. This new technology offers researchers a new and malleable model of the brain, yet it is unable to replace lab rats completely as much more development needs to be done.
- Posted by Emily Wong (6)
It is clear that transitioning to testing robots instead of rats would be the next ethically conscious step in scientific research. However, even though performing tests on AI's would be more ethically convenient, the tests would be inherently and scientifically flawed. In constructing AI's, human engineers can only form their creations to their best understanding of the human mind (or in this case, the minds of the rats). If we were to base research on AI's, we would not be able to deduce any conclusions on relationships between the AI's and humans (or rats for that matter) because we as humans are not fully aware of how many underlying processes there are in the human brain (or the brain of a rat). Many psychologists like to say "the human brain is the most complex biological system in the universe". If this is indeed the case, it will take a considerable amount of time before we able to replicate the human brain into an AI unit. And at that point, what need would there be for testing the cognitive processes of other subjects for supposed biological similarity?ReplyDelete
I agree with your analysis of how constructing AIs would only be based the our best understanding of the human brain. It is true that there are going to be limitations how these AIs can replicate brain processes. Additionally, there are also much more complex processes that these robots simply just can not replicate. However, these technology could be aid in researches that might not be ethically approved. I agree that they might not be ever advanced enough to completely replace rats in labs, yet they could serve as a model.Delete
I think using robots over rats would be an ethically rational thing to do, however I don't see it benefitting biology directly. It would be nearly impossible to replicate the human brain and even the rats brains. I also know that a lot of cancer research is done on rats for things like testing new drugs or experimental methods. These would not be able to be performed on robots because they wouldn't have similar body systems and a beating heart like humans. I do think that maybe in the future robots could be used for more psychology related experiments but I do not see robots making it very far in the field of biology and medicine.ReplyDelete
I have worked in a lab that dealt with rodents and I do agree that this would likely be monumental for not only limiting testing on animals, but it would also allow a greater amount of money to be saved by needing less rats on site for experimentation, but also allowing for more drugs to be tested at a cheaper cost. It could work excellently as another medium to test drugs and maybe to refine which drugs to test in vivo. However, I cannot ever see this being passed and directly moving to a human model.ReplyDelete
I agree with you that these AI robots might have a very slim chance of being able to completely replace rodents used in labs. As someone had mentioned in their comment, they stated that constructing AIs would only be based the our best understanding of the human brain. Therefore, it is almost impossible for AIs to surpass the level of understanding that humans has. Still I think that these robots would be beneficial as another medium to test drugs as you mentioned.Delete
I could see replacing rats with robots could be beneficial in some aspects. It saves having to kill mice and more tests can be done on the robot, depending on what the test is. I'm not entirely sure if it would save money because the robots could cost a lot of money to either purchase or make. Has there been any research to see if the robots are used for other tests other than psychological ones? That's a main reason why using mice might remain to be the more effective way to do tests. The reason being is that scientists are able to give mice certain diseases/health issues and examine their behavior and try to find solutions. I don't think this is possible with robots?ReplyDelete
It would be amazing if rats could be replaced by robots in certain laboratory instances. This could reduce the amount of animal testing performed due to the severity of some of the tests done on them. The only issue in this is that it would be difficult to use robots for modeling certain processes that happen on the cellular level. Maybe one day it will be possible that robots could be used for those cases, though.ReplyDelete
Comment was posted by Brianna LucianiDelete
See, I think the whole idea of robots being utilized for animal testing is a great idea however, how accurate can it really be? Its great in the sense that it will eliminate the need to testing on animals; this means many labs across the country would not have the need to kill in order for research. However, this issue becomes a bit concerning when trying to prove the accuracy of the results. Can robots really identically act the same as a living organism? and If so how can we truly test this? I found this post interesting because as we advance within the 21st century, new innovations will begin to replace old outdated.ReplyDelete
While I did enjoy your blog post and the article, I still believe that there is not a logistical way to have biomimetic robots fully replace actually living model organisms. All living organisms have innate desires and aversions that stem from millions of years of evolution. Thus, no matter how intelligent a certain organism may be the basic reasoning behind any of their actions can be traced back to just a few particular needs or fears. However, an artificial intelligence robot does not have this evolutionary history and therefore would not be able to truly mimic a living creatures response to a certain stimuli. Similarly, these robots could not be used for any physical tests conducted on animals as biomimetic robots do not have accurate biological bodily systems. Also, how cost effective is using robots over mice? Breeding a large amount of mice for testing is fairly easy, relatively cheap, and can be done in a quick manner. I feel that the cost of maintenance and production of these robots would outweigh any benefits it may provide. Despite these issues, if A.I. can be heavily improved upon, both in cost and effectiveness, then I could see this technology being used to help reduce the amount of testing conducted on living organisms.ReplyDelete
I agree with James on this topic. The idea that a robot can replace living model organisms is almost implausible. The AI system is made from codes so for it to get rewarded for looking at a certain color is just meaning that its successfully preformed what its been coded to do. Interesting article though!Delete