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 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 Science of Sleep: Seeing Dreams and Augmenting Your Z’s

sleepingBeautySleep is a preoccupation the vast majority of human beings simply cannot shake. Unlike those lucky few who seem to be able to get by on a few hours a night, most people require a good eight hours of rest to be able to work, play, and function properly. Given that so much of our lives are spent in sleep – a full third, if we’re lucky – it’s little wonder then why the science of sleeping continues to fascinate us and garner so much attention.

Just this past April, Yukiyasu Kamitani and his colleagues at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, announced that they were close to realizing their goal of being able to visualize people’s dreams. By this, of course, they meant the ability to take what a person was seeing while in deep REM sleep and project it onto a screen.

brain-activityThe process relies on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device, which examines the flow of blood in the brain to monitor activity. Using this data, the team then managed to create an algorithm that they claim can accurately display in real time what images are appearing in the subject’s dream. This is the first time, it is believed, that objective data has been collected from dreams.

But of course, the concept is predicated on the idea that when you experience a thought, your brain behaves in a specific, repeatable function. Assuming that this much is true, then the results could very well be quantifiable and rendered. The technology has already been demonstrated to work with a fair degree of effectiveness, as shown as the 2011 experiment at the University of California, where subjects watched movie trailers and had the images they were watching reconstructed.

Science-can-tell-what-you-are-dreamingAnd while some researchers are working on seeing dreams, others are working to reduce the time we spend doing it. Yes, given the hectic pace people who live in the modern, industrialized world are now forced to live by, there are actually research teams out there looking to find ways – pharmaceutical and neurological – to reduce our dependency on sleep.

The purpose is simple, to increase the amount of time we have in which live, produce and enjoy ourselves not by living longer, but by increasing the efficiency of sleep so we can spend more of our lives awake. In an extended essay that is available at Aeon magazine, Jessa Gamble – a writer specializing in the science of sleep – explains how new technologies could make this a reality.

tcdsSuch technologies include things like the Somneo Sleep Trainer, a special mask that is being developed by Advanced Brain Monitoring and DARPA to help US servicemen and women combat fatigue, sleep deprivation, and experience more restful sleeps when they take them. By using a device that combines an EEG monitor and a series of blue-LED lights to supress melatonin, the mask is able to restrict the wearer’s sleep to only the most restorative phases of sleep.

And then there is the technology of transcranial direct-current stimulation, which involves such devices as the tDCS headband. Here, an electrical current is sent through the sleep-important parts of the brain, specifically the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The mild stimulation augments awareness and allows subjects, according to Gamble, to “learn visual search skills at double the speed.” They also sleep better later on, with “briefer waking periods and longer deep-sleep sessions.”

Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation whichA third potential technology that could be used is known as “transcranial magnetic stimulation” (TMS), a process which induces “slow-wave oscillations” in the brain, pushing the subject into a state of deep sleep in less time. Whereas the Somneo Sleep mask puts people into a lighter phase of sleep quicker, TMS will allow them to achieve a deeper state of sleep almost instantaneously. Add to that a better sleep cycle and better periods of wakefulness, and you’ve got what can only be described as “augmented sleep”.

But of course, this technology is being spearheaded for the sake of armed services, but has immense civilian applications as well. According to the CDC, roughly 30% of Americans live with less than adequate amounts of sleep, which drastically increases the risks of chronic disease. So realistically, this technology has the power to remediate the problem of those not getting enough sleep before it begins “enhancing” the sleep of others.

And I for one wonder where I might get myself a tCDS headband. While I have no intention of cutting down on the total number of hours I spend in the sack, I do like the idea of making the sleep I get more sound and my waking hours more wakeful. Then people can expect me to be a lot more productive. I know there have been some complaints about my output on this site lately 😉

Sources: cnet.news.com, fastcoexist.com, theloop.ca