July 22nd, 2003
Also on display was MEART, which stands for multi-electrode array art. MEART is the result of collaboration between U.S. and Australian researchers, who described their project as a prototype of a whole new class of creative beings — "the semi-living artist."
MEART's movements are controlled by the brain signals of a few thousand cultured rat neurons transmitting to MEART from a petri dish in Atlanta.
The rat neural signals are recorded by 60 two-way electrodes. A computer translates the rodent thoughts into movement and controls MEART's robotic arms, which draw what the rats presumably would draw, assuming they could and would create art.
The resulting artwork is periodically transmitted back to the rat neurons, to provide stimulation and feedback.
As technically impressive as MEART was, some viewers were squeamish about those rat brains.
"Eeeewww," said Shelly Fienstein, a graphic artist who attended the show. "A rat is drawing this stuff? A dead rat? Lots of dead rats? Oh, gross."
Yes, it's icky. But it's essentially a primitive laminated mouse brain CPU! How could anyone who has read the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith possibly fail to feel a frisson of wonder at the very idea?