April 10, 2021 at 09:00AM

Here at PYMNTS, we are strongly pro-monkey, because monkeys are almost always an improvement to a situation. There’s a reason that “a barrel full of monkeys” is the relevant quantum we all use to describe fun at its highest level: Monkeys are fun animals. Not fun in a way that implies one should attempt to keep a monkey as a pet (according to most experts, they make terrible pets), but fun in that monkeys tend to get into hijinks.

And as it turns out, this has been a golden week for monkey hijinks — literally all over the world. Tiny primates are cracking under the pressure of life on lockdown and going on the lam, or getting their brains wired up with high technology so they can play pong without using their hands. Bit of a waste of an opposable thumb if you ask us, but evidence that, for the last seven days or so, the news cycle has gone bananas keeping up with the latest and greatest in monkey mayhem on a global scale.

Monkeys on the Lam

After a year at home, most of us are ready for a change of scene. There’s only so much time one can stay cooped up before home starts to feel a little bit like jail. Many have lamented a lost time when we ate in restaurants, hugged friends and family, and traveled to exotic worlds outside 100 square miles from home. That said, none of us wants to get sick or make anyone else sick, and so we bemoan our diminished existence before settling in for another Netflix binge in our sweatpants.

But monkeys don’t have Netflix and don’t wear sweatpants — and as a result, they’re even more bored, stuck at home in closed zoos with nothing to do. But unlike us, they don’t idly complain. Monkeys are creatures of action — and when the going gets tough at the zoo, the tough get going.

Literally.

Case in point: About two dozen Barbary macaques escaped a zoo in Southwest Germany for an afternoon of fun in the sun in the local woods surrounding the town of Loffingen, where the zoo is housed a short distance from the Swiss border. The monkeys, law-abiding tricksters that they are, respected COVID-19 travel restrictions and did not attempt to skip the country — just as well, as it’s highly unlikely that they had vaccine passports.

How a gang of 24 monkeys managed to escape the zoo remains unknown, though construction work at the zoo has been identified as a potential factor that aided their plot. Zoo employees noticed the monkeys had gotten out when they found them roaming the area around the zoo in a pack, but were unable to catch them and eventually lost track of them.  In any event, that many macaques can’t stay hidden for very long — within a few hours, they were spotted hanging out in the local woods and were recaptured without incident.

“The animals apparently took advantage of the nice weather and spent the afternoon on the edge of a forest near the zoo,” police said.

More amazingly, perhaps, this is not the only story of monkeys on the loose this week. Police in Cincinnati, Ohio have been on the hunt for five monkeys reportedly swinging from the trees of a local cemetery. “I just stood there as my eyes adjusted to pitch blackness and that is when I saw it, just standing there, taller than a garbage can, and its arms were real long hanging down and its arms were real skinny,” one eyewitness told the media.

The local zoo confirmed that it has all its monkeys, but is nonetheless on the search for the primates — if they are real. It is not clear what species of monkey was supposedly spotted in Cincinnati. Two calls were received by police reporting the sighting, but dispatchers said they had not managed to re-establish contact with the individuals, as no one has reported any missing monkeys. The lack of a definitive sighting has sparked suspicion that the calls were a hoax. The police have declined to comment, and the monkeys, if they exist, are still at large.

If this is in fact a hoax perpetrated by an incredibly bored person stuck at home, it would still only be the second-weirdest story involving monkeys this week. (And the first-place holders aren’t the German monkey escape artists, as their behavior wasn’t weird at all — they just did what we’ve all been dreaming about for months.)

No, this week’s weirdest story of exotic monkey business comes from the usual place:

Elon Musk.

Elon’s Telepathic Pong-Playing Primates 

It sounds like something one might visit a circus to see, but as is often the case with Elon Musk’s sideshows, there is a higher-tech purpose to the spectacle. Still, the spectacle is pretty good this time around: Monkeys are using Musk’s Neuralink technology to play Pong with their brains. And, yes, bananas are an important part of this process.

The nine-year-old player is a  male macaque named Pager, with a Neuralink device implanted in both sides of his brain, according to a YouTube video posted by the company on Thursday (April 8). “He’s learned to interact with a computer for a tasty banana smoothie delivered through a straw,” says the narrator in the video as Pager moves an on-screen cursor using a joystick.

The two Neuralink devices record brain activity via more than 2,000 tiny electrodes implanted in Pager’s motor cortex, which controls hand and arm movements, according to the video. Neuralink feeds the information from the monkey’s neurons into a decoder, which can then be used to predict Pager’s intended hand movements and model the relationship between brain activity and joystick movements.

“Our goal is to enable a person with paralysis to use a computer or phone with their brain activity alone,” said the narrator, explaining that people would calibrate their decoder by imagining hand movements.

The ultimate goal for this tech isn’t to make video game addicts of monkeys — that is just a glorious side benefit. The tech will first be used in humans to “enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs,” according to an Elon Musk tweet last week. “Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in [the] brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again.”

That iteration of the tech is still far away. For now, at least, it seems we may have a budding solution for escaping monkeys: Maybe it’s to get them Neuralinked and playing Pong en-masse.

Pong-Playing Primates And Other Highlights From A Week Of Monkey Business …

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