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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