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Why Tech Companies Are Raiding Animal Research Labs


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hands holding a mouse

Mice studied by neuroscientists at Harvard's Rowland Institute are trained to perform tasks including playing video games and moving joysticks.

Credit: Cassandra Klos / Bloomberg Businessweek

A growing number of specialized animal researchers are assisting in the development of artificial intelligence software and brain-computer interfaces.

Over the past few years, technology companies have been raiding universities to hire away neuroscientists studying birds, mice, and fish. Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all hired doctoral candidates from the recent fellowship programs of Mackenzie Mathis, a neuroscientist at Harvard's Rowland Institute. "The Ph.D. students would have jobs before they got their degrees," she says.

Animals have long played important roles in advancing corporate science, particularly for medical treatments. But the leap required to translate insights from the zebra finch's sound-processing anatomy into Siri's voice-recognition software is of an entirely different order. With whole new industries at stake, the race to unlock the secrets of the animal mind is getting weird.

Still, with the technology industry chasing what's known as artificial general intelligence, the walls between the realms of computation and cognition have grown more porous.

From Bloomberg Businessweek
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