Scientists at the University of Washington have successfully completed what is believed to be the most complex human brain-to-brain communication experiment ever. It allowed two people located a mile apart to play a game of "20 Questions" using only their brainwaves, a nearly imperceptible flash of light, and an internet connection to communicate.
Brain-to-brain interfaces have gotten much more complex over the last several years. Miguel Nicolelis, a researcher at Duke University, has even created "organic computers" by connecting the brains of several rats and chimps together.
But in humans, the technology remains pretty basic, primarily because the most advanced brain-to-brain interfaces require direct access to the brain. We're not exactly willing to saw open a person's skull in the name of performing some rudimentary tasks for science.
Using two well-known technologies, electroencephalography EEG and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), Andrea Stocco and Chantel Prat were able to increase the complexity of a human brain to brain interface.
The EEG was used to read one person's brain waves, while the TMS machine was used to create a "phosphene"—a ring of light perceptible only to the wearer—on the other.
In the experiment, the EEG wearer was shown an object—a shark, for instance. The TMS wearer then used a computer mouse to ask a question of the EEG wearer—maybe "can it fly?" The EEG wearer then focused on a screen flashing either "yes" or "no." The brain waves were then read and transferred via the internet. If the answer was "yes," the TMS wearer would see a phosphene, suggesting he or she was on the right track to guessing the object.
The whole setup looks something like this:
In 72 percent of games, the guesser was able to eventually get to the correct object. In a control group, just 18 percent of guessers were.
As I mentioned, both of these technology are well-known and are used in medical settings regularly. There is perhaps no totally new technological breakthrough here, but it's a clever way of hooking neurological devices to each other to complete a task. In a paper published in PLOS One, Stocco and Prat write that the task is "collaborative, potentially open-ended, operates in real-time, and requires conscious processing of incoming information."...MOREHey, mine too! Collaborative, open-ended, real-time,
So to speak.
Mind-Meld: Neuroscientists Link Three Monkey Brains Into Living Computer
I've said a few times that we may be watching a guy win a Medicine/Physiology Nobel, in real time.
And as a bonus we get the understated pull-quote of the week:
Errrrrmmm, yes."In principle we could communicate information much faster [with a brainet] than with vision and language, but there's a really high bar,"...
- Jason Ritt, Ph.D., Boston University
Huh, The Brain/Machine Interface Biz Made Some Progress Last Month
A New Interface Lets Monkeys Control Two Virtual Arms With Their Brain Alone...
Update: Not Everyone is Impressed With Dr. Miguel Nicolelis' Latest Intercontinental Mind-Meld
Maybe He Didn't See the Part Where the Monkey Controlled a Robot on the Other Side of the World With Its Little Monkey Brain