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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Should we make animals smarter?

Brain research raises the possibility of a very exotic future

The science of artificial brain improvement is making quick progress in labs across the country. Earlier this month, a team of researchers from the University of Rochester and the University of California, Los Angeles announced that they’d created smarter-than-average rodents by injecting human brain cells into the forebrains of newborn mouse pups. Other scientists have used electronic brain implants to improve the memory first of rats, then of rhesus monkeys. Once the province of science fiction and medical thrillers, “cognitive enhancement” is now a real (if distant) prospect for human beings.

Debates over proper use of the technology have already begun. Some thinkers eagerly anticipate the day when we can use a combination of genes, drugs, and electrodes to blow past the natural biological limits of our three-pound brains. Others say more caution is in order—first we need to decide how such powerful tools should be used, or whether it’s proper to meddle with the brain at all.

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