Researchers have successfully communicated words from one brain to another over the internet.
Brain wave-sensing technology, which utilizes electroencephalography-powered headsets, has already been demonstrated to do all kinds of impressive things, such as piloting an aircraft or controlling a robot. Now, researchers are investigating how to telepathically communicate with the tech.
An international team of researchers was able to use electroencephalography (EEG) to convert the words “hola” and “ciao” from a person's brain waves into binary. That data was transmitted from a subject in India to another subject in France, where the process was successfully reversed. In other words, the researchers say they've created a brain-to-brain communication system.
An EEG setup usually only involves brain-to-computer communication. Electrodes attached to the skull capture electrical currents in the brain associated with various action-thoughts, like moving your left arm, and a computer interface analyzes that signal and maps it to a control output, like a robot.
In their study, published yesterday in PLOS One, the researchers decided to close the brain-computer control loop by putting another brain on the other end of the system, to receive the signals processed by the computer interface.
It’s important to note that their approach to telepathic communication was extremely rudimentary, clunky, and abstracted from the direct and intuitive process we often see in sci-fi and fantasy movies.
An overview of the brain-to-brain interface. Image: PLOS One
After the words were encoded, the result was automatically emailed to France, where another computer interface de-coded them and sent the binary signals into the information receiver’s brain via non-invasive electrical stimulation that appeared as flashes of light in the corner of their vision.
Still, it worked. A similar second experiment, which involved beaming thoughts from Spain to France, resulted in a total error rate of just 15 percent, with a 5 percent on the encoding side and roughly 11 percent on the decoding.
Previous research into brain-to-brain EEG communication has been successful in rats. Researchers at the University of Washington last year used a similar approach to allow a person to control another’s fingers by stimulating regions of the brain that cause movement, while Kevin Warwick helped pioneer methods for digitizing thoughts years ago.
According to the researchers behind the study at hand, however, this is the first time humans have sent communicative content nearly directly into each other’s brains.
However rudimentary the approach, it’s important to note that the technology is still very much in its infancy. The researchers closed their study by forecasting that smooth telepathic communication, mediated by computers, will be a humdrum routine for us in the near future.
"We anticipate that computers in the not-so-distant future will interact directly with the human brain in a fluent manner, supporting both computer- and brain-to-brain communication routinely," they wrote.
But, for the moment, just emailing your boss with regular words is still probably easier than flailing your hands and feet to encode your feeble excuse for not coming in today and sending it into their brain—how do you spell “hangover” in binary, anyway?