The Worlds First Brain to Brain Interface!

Brain-ScanIt finally happened! It seems like only yesterday, I was talking about the limitations of Brain to Brain Interfacing (BBI), and how it was still limited to taking place between rats and between a human and a rat. Actually, it was two days ago, but the point remains. In spite of that, after only a few months of ongoing research, scientists have finally performed the first human-to-human interface.

Using a Skype connection, Rajesh Rao, who studies computational neuroscience at the University of Washington, successfully used his mind to control the hand of his colleague, Andrea Stucco. The experiment was conducted on Aug. 12th, less than month after researchers at Harvard used a non-invasive technique and a though to control the movement of a rat’s tail.

brain-to-brain-interfacingThis operation was quite simple: In his laboratory, Rao put on a skull cap containing electrodes which was connected to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine. These electrodes read his brainwaves and transmitted them across campus to Stocco who, seated in a separate lab, was equipped with a cap that was hooked up to a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) machine.

This machine activating a magnetic stimulation coil that was integrated into the cap directly above Stocco’s left motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movements of the hands. Back in Rao’s lab, he watched a screen displaying a video game, in which the player must tap the spacebar in order to shoot down a rocket; while  in Stocco’s lab. the computer was linked to that same game.

braininterfacing-0Instead of tapping the bar, however, Rao merely visualized himself doing so. The EEG detected the electrical impulse associated with that imagined movement, and proceeded to send a signal – via the Skype connection – to the TMS in Stocco’s lab. This caused the coil in Stocco’s cap to stimulate his left motor cortex, which in turn made his right hand move.

Given that his finger was already resting over the spacebar on his computer, this caused a cannon to fire in the game, successfully shooting down the rocket. He compared the feeling to that of a nervous tic. And to ensure that there was no chance of any outside influence, the Skype feeds were not visible to each other, and Stucco wore noise cancelling headphones and ear buds.

brain-activityIn the course of being interviewed, Rao was also quick to state that the technology couldn’t be used to read another person’s mind, or to make them do things without their willing participation. The researchers now hope to establish two-way communications between participants’ brains, as the video game experiment just utilized one-way communication.

Additionally, they would like to transmit more complex packets of information between brains, things beyond simple gestures. Ultimately, they hope that the technology could be used for things like allowing non-pilots to land planes in emergency situations, or letting disabled people transmit their needs to caregivers. And in time, the technology might even be upgraded to involve wireless implants.

brainpainting-brain-computer-interfaces-2One thing that should be emphasized here is the issue of consent. In this study, both men were willing participants, and it is certain that any future experimentation will involve people willingly accepting information back and forth. The same goes for commands, which theoretically could only occur between people willing to be linked to one another.

However, that doesn’t preclude that such links couldn’t one day be hacked, which would necessitate that anyone who chose to equip themselves with neural implants and uplinks also get their hands on protection and anti-hacking software. But that’s an issue for another age, and no doubt some future crime drama! Dick Wolf, you should be paying me for all the suggestions I’m giving you!

And of course, there’s a video of the experiment, courtesy of the University of Washington. Behold and be impressed, and maybe even a little afraid for the future:


Source:
gizmag.com

The Future is Here: Brain to Brain Interfaces (Cont’d)

telepathyThis year is shaping up to be an exciting time for technology that enables people to communicate their thoughts via an electronic link. For the most part, this has involved the use of machinery to communicate a person’s thoughts to a machine – such as a prosthetic device. However, some researchers have gone beyond the field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and have been making strides with brain-to-brain interfacing (BBI) instead.

Back in February, a research team in Natal Brazil, led by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, managed to create a link between the brains of two laboratory rats. In the experiment, an “encoder” rat in Natal was placed inside a “Skinner Box” where it would press a lever with an expectation of getting a treat in return.

BMIThe brain activity was then recorded and sent via electrical signal which was delivered to a second “decoder” rat which, though it was thousands of kilometers away, interpreted the signal and pressed a similar lever with a similar a expectation of reward. This developmental milestone was certainly big news, and has led to some even more impressive experiments since.

One of these comes from Harvard University, where scientists have developed a new, non-invasive interface that allowed a similar thought transfer to take place. Led by Seung-Schik Yoo, an assistant professor of radiology, the research team created a brain-to-brain interface (BBI) that allows a human controller to move a portion of a rat’s body just by thinking about it, all without invasive surgical implants.

BBIThe new technique takes advantage of a few advances being made in the field. These include focused ultrasound (FUS) technology, which delivers focused acoustic energy to a specific point. Ordinarily, this technology has used heat to destroy tumors and other diseased tissue in the deeper reaches of the brain.  Yoo’s team, however, has found that a lower-intensity blast can be used to stimulate brain tissue without damaging it.

In terms of the interface, a human controller was hooked up to an EEG-based BCI while the rat is hooked up to an FUS-based computer-to-brain interface (CBI). The human subject then viewed an image of a circle flashing in a specific pattern which generated electrical brain activity in the same frequency. When the BCI detected this activity, it sent a command to the CBI, which in turn sends FUS into the region of the rat’s brain that controls its tail, causing it to move.

MMIUsing six different human subjects and six different rat subjects, the team achieved a success rate of 94 percent, with a time delay of 1.59 ± 1.07 seconds between user intention and the rat’s response. Granted, it might not be quite the pinnacle of machine-powered telepathy, and the range of control over the animal test subject was quite limited. Still, the fact that two brains could be interfaced, and without the need for electrodes, is still a very impressive feat.

And of course, it raises quite a few possibilities. If brain-to-brain interfaces between humans and animals are possible, just what could it mean for the helper animal industry? Could seeing eye dogs be telepathically linked to their animals, thus able to send and receive signals from them instantaneously? What about butler monkeys? Could a single thought send them scurrying to the kitchen to fetch a fresh drink?

Who knows? But the fact that it could one day be possible is both inspiring and frightening!

Source: news.cnet.com