DARPA's project FIDOS, uses MRI's for selecting dogs for military training

dog brain scan darpaIf you are into dog technology by now you would have heard of Darpa's project FIDO that is preparing to use brain scan technology in the recruitment of dogs that will be suitable for military use.

I think this raises more ethical than technical questions as you will see.

For those unaware, DARPA is the think tank of the US military that gave us such wonderful things as the internet.

In a recent dog brain scanning article on this site, we looked at how some researchers had been using fMRI technology to plot dog brain activity under certain reward situations.

You can imagine that "FIDOS, or  “Functional Imaging to Develop Outstanding Service-Dogs” will have a much larger budget and will be much more thorough. Though using it as a recruitment tool may raise some ethical eyebrows.  Considering that dogs already sniff for bombs, detect narcotics and rescue humans in dangerous situations, would you like to be the lucky dog that was selected for such unenviable tasks, because of this new technology?

The goal of the experimentation is said to be to "optimize the selection of ideal service dogs”. How lucky will those dogs be!  And not only will the smartest dogs be chosen, or those with the best aptitude for certain tasks but  “Real-time neural feedback” will optimize canine training. That is, they will be able to see in real time what is going on in the dogs head to a certain stimulus, and change training programs to get better results.

What is the real DARPA dog Brain Scan goal?

This better, faster, cheaper method of training, if it works, is said to replace the $20,000 traditional discipline and reward training regime that is currently used. You know, where a trainer actually takes time to bond with the dog before sending them off to deadly situations.

Fortunately or unfortunately it seems that the Emery university's 2012 fMRI experiments have led directly to DARPA taking up the brain scan challenge. They will no doubt explore the postulate that the researchers came up with that not only does a dog treat waved in front of a dog's face increase brain activity in the dogs’ ventral caudate, a section of the brain associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.

The researcher's also found that dogs seemed to get joy from pleasing their masters and so this social aspect of the dogs relationship with man may be exploited to further increase a dog's desire to do good by us, "To do good" in this case seems to be a euphemism for over-riding cautions that dogs might usually have, such as the desire to not get into a situation that may have them get blown up!

One less conscionable aspect of this future (2013) Darpa research is that it has been leaked that researchers are considering using machines to automate puppy training.

More than that, it is suggested that rather than guessing at using something the dog wants, to make the dog do a task, the trainers could "fine-tune their techniques" to more closely match the chemical responses happening inside the dog’s head. The question that I have is once this science has fully been tested and shown to work, what will stop it being used on humans? Sure I know that everyone can trust the American Government, and especially the military. however I am not certain that this is a development or experiment to be celebrated.

The good Darpa Dog Brain scan research objective

Of course this research will include one or two silver linings, such as suggestions that more social dogs can be trained to rehabilitate soldiers who have been blown up. But is that possibility the main push behind this dubious research?

The theory behind the better rehabilitation dog is that puppies will be chosen by scanning dogs that show “neurophysiological markers of handler stress and anxiety.” That hypothesis is based on research showing that dogs can follow along to the human gaze and finger-pointing, though many researchers dispute what the dogs are actually understanding by their masters gestures.

The apparent ability for some dogs to "catch yawns from their owners at a greater rate than strangers"  is also offered up as a good proof that dogs can understand and interpret human intentions, apparently green flagging this research further.

For all the excitement over Oscars law in 2012, I would imagine that this research also deserves equal scrutiny and action.

Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please refer to the article as a reference and provide a link to http://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au

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