“The Cat’s Paw,” which Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s 1824 painting rather painfully illustrates (on view in gallery G321), was a popular 17th-century fable about a cunning monkey who persuaded a cat to retrieve some chestnuts from a fire. A “cat’s paw” came to mean an easily duped person—a sucker. Now technology has enabled an even more direct form of mind control: brain-to-brain communication.
At the University of Washington, professor Rajesh Rao sent a neural signal across campus to colleague Andrea Stocco. With this electronic impulse, Stocco unwittingly, so to speak, twitched his finger, hit the space bar on his computer, and made a move in a video game that Rao was playing, becoming a kind of surrogate brain. So far, Rao and Stocco are the only two human beings in the world whose brains are connected this way—and had to get special permission from an ethical review board to turn Stocco into a cat’s paw.