Brain to Brain interface breakthrough enables sharing of thoughts. Sort of.
Brain to Brain interfaces probably seem to be the stuff of science fiction. The mention of minds linked to one another might conjure images of the Borg from Star Trek, or perhaps Mr. Smith from The Matrix Trilogy. In fact, our media is littered with examples of what can be construed as “hive minds”. What if I told you that at this very moment there are scientists across the globe trying to make this aspect of science fiction a possibility, nay, a reality?
In point of fact, I previously reported on a team of scientists at the university of washington that had been able to connect the brains of two researchers and enable one researcher to move the hand of another through a brain-computer-brain interface. Prior to that, researchers led by a professor at Duke University showed that rats could learn from each others’ actions via electrode implants connected to each other via a computer.
Now, researchers in a collaboration from the University of Barcelona, Harvard Medical School, and 3 private companies were able to use a similar form of brain-computer-brain interface to ‘telepathically’ send the words “ciao” and “hola” from a study participant in India, directly to the brain of 3 participants in Strasbourg, France.
The study involved 3 basic steps:
1) The “Encoder” is presented with a string of 1s and 0s that correspond to a message (either “ciao” or “hola”) encoded by 140 bits. The encoder then imagines moving either their foot or their hand and depending on which anatomical location they imagine, a 1 or a 0 is encoded into the message.
2) A computer used a form of ciphering (secret message writing) known as 5-bit Bacon ciphering. Wherein the target message is translated into a string of 1s and 0s that are determined by a totally separate message. In this way the target message is encoded into a pseudo-random string of bits that can only be translated if the cipher is known by both parties. The researchers did this in order to blind the participants to the message being received during the study, and so that statistical analyses could be performed to determine the efficacy of the entire procedure.
3) The “Receiver” is presented with the message via a method known as transcranial magnetic stimulation. A powerful magnet is positioned at the end of a special robotic arm (provided by Axilium Robotics) and is used to precisely stimulate the visual cortex of the Receiver. Targeting the visual cortex with TMS produces what are known as phosphenes: the experience of seeing light when no light has entered the eye. The receivers would see a white light in their lower visual field, and were instructed to tell the researchers that they had seen the phosphene right away.
Amazingly, with practice the Encoders were able to accurately produce the 1’s and 0’s of the message with over 90% efficiency, and the error rate of the Receivers was seen to be 11%. Altogether the transmission error rate for the entire experiment was 15%. In other words: the experiment showed the ability to transmit information using only the brain with 85% accuracy over a distance of more than 4500 miles (~7200 kilometers).
I for one welcome our new hive-minded overlords. What about you? Would you sign up to connect your brain with someone else?