Brain-To-Brain communication could become a reality

Brain-To-Brain communication could become a reality

Many of the greatest contemporary technological developments have centered on advancing human communication. From the telegraph to the Internet, the primary utility of these game-changing innovations has been to increase the range of audiences that an individual can reach.However, most current methods for communicating are still limited by the words and symbols available to the sender and understood by the receiver.

A great deal of the information that is available to our brain is not introspectively available to our consciousness, and thus cannot be voluntarily put in linguistic form. Can information that is available in the brain be transferred directly in the form of the neural code, bypassing language altogether? The idea of direct brain-to-brain communication could potentially be achieved using a Brain-to-Brain Interface (BBI). Researchers have connected two human brains directly allowing them to pass on data. It could lead brain tutoring where you could learn directly from the brain of a teacher.

What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language? University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal. At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable tech,” said co-author Andrea Stocco. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably.” Collaborator Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, is the lead author on this work. The team combined two kinds of noninvasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. 

The process is fairly straightforward. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls the hand. Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement. The study involved three pairs of participants. Each pair included a sender and a receiver with different roles and constraints. They sat in separate buildings on campus about a half mile apart and were unable to interact with each other in any way ­ except for the link between their brains.

Each sender was in front of a computer game in which he or she had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets launched by a pirate ship. But because the senders could not physically interact with the game, the only way they could defend the city was by thinking about moving their hand to fire the cannon. Across campus, each receiver sat wearing headphones in a dark room ­ with no ability to see the game ­ with the right hand positioned over the only touchpad that could actually fire the cannon. If the brain-to-brain interface was successful, the receiver's hand would twitch, pressing the touchpad and firing the cannon that were displayed on the sender's computer screen across campus.Researchers found that accuracy varied among the pairs, ranging from 25 to 83 per cent. They also were able to quantify the exact amount of information that was transferred between the two brains.

Another research team from Barcelona, recently published results in the same journal showing direct communication between two human brains, but that study only tested one sender brain instead of different pairs of study participants and was conducted offline instead of in real time over the Web.With the new funding, the research team will expand the types of information that can be transferred from brain to brain, including more complex visual and psychological phenomena such as concepts, thoughts and rules.They're also exploring how to influence brain waves that correspond with alertness or sleepiness.


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