A team of international researchers have built a human-to-human, brain-to-brain interface that will allow two humans to consciously communicate with each other without any additional social cues.
The development--reported in ExtremeTech and recently published in PLoS ONE--is one of several recent examinations into devices that can read brain activity, but the first of its kind to establish a communication connection without speech. Recently, one researcher attached with a brain-computer interface (BCI) in India, successfully sent words into the brain of another researcher attached to a computer-to-brain interface (CBI) located in France. The two devices essentially enable telepathic speech, with the aim to create the possibility to obtain thoughts, emotions and words from another person's brain without the use of traditional social cues.
The last few years have seen steady progress on the development of advanced BCI's, and earlier this year researchers at Brown University developed the first implantable computer interface. It wasn't until recently that researchers began working on the other side of the equation, the CBI device.
The team began with a standard electroencephalogram (EEG) provided by Neuroelectrics for the BCI, according to their paper recently published in PLoS ONE. On the CBI side, the team used a transcranial magnetic stimulation rig, which can stimulate regions of neurons in the brain using magnetism. This was important because it allowed researchers to stimulate the brain through a non-invasive manner.
The process is still very rudimentary at this point, as researchers began by simply sending thoughts about one's hand, versus one's foot. Once patient A thinks about moving their hand, the BCI device is able to reduce the thought to binary code, equating a thought about feet to the number zero, and a thought about hands to the number one. The code is then sent to the CBI device on the other end, and the transcranial magnetic stimulation rig is able to decode the message and communicate it to the receiver through the presence of a phosphene flash.
This certainly seems like an over complicated process, and while it may be, it has the potential to serve as the groundwork for potential brain-to-brain communications that are much more efficient in the future. While the recipient device is currently bulky and cumbersome, the hope is to design smaller, lightweight EEG receivers that allow a constant stream of thoughts and information. Researchers hope to have scaled the device down to a portable size within the next few years, allowing users to walk around while communicating to each other. They also hope to make more progress in the process of decoding the brain's activity, allowing users to receive a near constant stream of communication.
The applications of the device are still being discovered, as researchers look into ways that the technology could be used to better understand the true thoughts and emotions of humans. The benefits of a true telepathic system could help us better understand the thoughts of those who have difficulty voicing their emotions, as well as those with physical limitations that prohibit them from effectively communicating. Regardless of the application, the technology has the potential to be truly groundbreaking, and the first of its kind in terms of uncovering new abilities of the human brain.
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Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.
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