The Future is Here: First Brain-to-Brain Interface!

https://i0.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/professor-x-x-men-telepathy-helmet-640x352.jpgIn a first amongst firsts, a team of international researchers have reported that they have built the first human-to-human brain-to-brain interface; allowing two humans — separated by the internet — to consciously communicate with each other. One researcher, attached to a brain-computer interface (BCI) in India, successfully sent words into the brain of another researcher in France, who was wearing a computer-to-brain interface (CBI).

In short, the researchers have created a device that allows people to communicate telepathically. And it’s no surprise, given the immense amount of progress being made in the field. Over the last few years, brain-computer interfaces that you can plug into your computer’s USB port have been commercially available. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen advanced BCIs that can be implanted directly into your brain.

BCICreating a brain-to-brain connection is a bit more difficult though, as it requires that brain activity not only be read, but inputted into someone else’s brain. Now, however, a team of international researchers have cracked it. On the BCI side of things, the researchers used a fairly standard EEG (electroencephalogram) from Neuroelectrics. For the CBI, which requires a more involved setup, a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) rig was used.

To break the process down, the BCI reads the sender’s thoughts, like to move their hands or feet, which are then broken down into binary 1s and 0s. These encoded thoughts are then transmitted via the internet (or some other network) to the recipient, who is wearing a TMS. The TMS is focused on the recipient’s visual cortex, and it receives a “1″ from the sender, it stimulates a region in the visual cortex that produces a phosphene.

https://i2.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/brain-to-brain-bci-eeg-tms.jpgThis is a phenomenon whereby a person sees flashes of light, without light actually hitting the retina. The recipient “sees” these phosphenes at the bottom of their visual field, and by decoding the flashes — phosphene flash = 1, no phosphene = 0 — the recipient can “read” the word being sent. While this is certainly a rather complex way of sending messages from one brain to another, for now, it is truly state of the art.

TMS is somewhat similar to TDCS (transcranial direct-current stimulation), in that it can stimulate regions of neurons in your brain. But instead of electrical current, it uses magnetism, and is a completely non-invasive way of stimulating certain sections of the brain and allowing a person to think and feel a certain way. In short, there doesn’t need to be any surgery or electrodes implanted into the user’s brain to make it happen.

brain-to-brain-interfacingThis method also neatly sidestep the fact that we really don’t know how the human brain encodes information. And so, for now, instead of importing a “native” message, we have to use our own encoding scheme (binary) and a quirk of the visual cortex. And even if it does seem a little bit like hard work, there’s no denying that this is a conscious, non-invasive brain-to-brain connection.

With some refinement, it’s not hard to imagine a small, lightweight EEG that allows the sender to constantly stream thoughts back to the receiver. In the future, rather than vocalizing speech, or vainly attempting to vocalize one’s own emotions, people could very well communicate their thoughts and feelings via a neural link that is accommodated by simple headbands with embedded sensors.

Brain-ScanAnd imagine a world where instant messaging and video conferencing have the added feature of direct thought sharing. Or an The Internet of Thoughts, where people can transfer terabytes worth of brain activity the same way they share video, messages and documents. Remember, the internet began as a small-scale connection between a few universities, labs and research projects.

I can foresee a similar network being built between research institutions where professors and students could do the same thing. And this could easily be followed by a militarized version where thoughts are communicated instantly between command centers and bunkers to ensure maximum clarity and speed of communication. My how the world is shaping up to be a science fiction novel!

Sources: extremetech.com, neurogadget.com, dailymail.co.uk

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