Brain-to-brain interfacing – it’s previously been accomplished between two rats, but now it’s been achieved between two humans. Rajesh Rao, who studies computational neuroscience at the University of Washington, has successfully used his mind to control the hand of his colleague, Andrea Stucco. The two were linked via a Skype connection.
The experiment, which was conducted on Aug. 12th but announced just yesterday, worked as follows …
Rao put on a skull cap containing electrodes, which was in turn connected to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine. Via those electrodes, the machine was able to detect the electrical activity in his brain.
Meanwhile, across the campus, Stocco wore a swim cap that was hooked up to a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) machine. That machine was capable of activating a magnetic stimulation coil, which 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, the scientist watched a screen displaying a video game, in which the player must tap the spacebar in order to shoot down a rocket – a computer in Stocco’s lab was linked to that same game. Instead of tapping the bar, however, Rao merely visualized himself doing so. The EEG nonetheless 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 the 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.
It should be noted that neither of the scientists could see each others’ Skype video feeds, plus Stocco was wearing noise-canceling earbuds, so no subconscious cues could pass between them. Rao is 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 (which can be seen below) just utilized one-way communication. Additionally, they would like to transmit more complex packets of information between brains. 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.