Scratch Monkey Story
11 january 2004
This morning, I spoke for an hour with Laura Creighton, who wrote the device driver for the equipment between the monkeys and the computer.
This incident happened at the University of Toronto in late November of 1979 or 1980. The zoology department had used digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters in a large number of experiments, including attempting to synthesize pheromones to reduce breeding of beetles that fed on tobacco crops, some rat neurological experiments, and some cricket behavior/population studies. The rat experiments involved implanting electrodes in the rats' brains, and the rats experienced some pain. The Humane Society learned of this and raised complaints, resulting in the shutting down of the zoology department for a day while the experiment was stopped. The University of Toronto has the third or fourth most respected zoology department in the world and wanted to maintain that prestige, so there was lots of screaming to avoid having such a thing happening again.
The various data from the experiments was collected by PDP-11/05 front ends and sent to an 11/44. Laura Creighton had written the software for this, fixing a problem they had previously with the 11/44 not being fast enough to collect the data by itself. This was being done for 16 to 18 experiments.
The folks in the physiology section of the Department of Medicine (separate from Science, which contained the zoology department) had bought their first VAX, an 11/780, and wanted a similar set-up. So Laura Creighton and the zoology department agreed to set up their software for this. The physiology people decided not to use 11/05s in between, since the VAX was fast enough to handle the data. So five monkeys were fitted with caps intended to sense brain waves, and the caps were attached to...