Technological Telepathy: Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication Achieved for the First Time

Friday, 05 September 2014 - 11:23AM
Neuroscience
Friday, 05 September 2014 - 11:23AM
Technological Telepathy: Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication Achieved for the First Time

Two brains have directly said "hello" to each other for the first time. In an experiment conducted by Harvard researchers, "digital telepathy" was achieved when two people in India and France, respectively, said the words "hola" and "ciao" to each other using only their minds.

 

[Credit: PLOS One]

 

For the experiment, the subjects were outfitted with electrode caps that received EEG signals from their brains. They then moved their hands and feet in order to spell out words using binary code (moving hands for "1" and feet for "0"). The associated electrical signals were then transmitted directly to the receiver's brain via an internet connection. The transmissions stimulated the receiver's visual cortex in order to make the 1's and 0's appear as points of light in different places in the receiver's field of vision. The receiver would then translate the binary into letters.

 

 

[Credit: PLOS One]

 

"It is kind of technological realisation of the dream of telepathy, but it is definitely not magical," said Giulio Ruffini, theoretical physicist and co-author. "We are using technology to interact electromagnetically with the brain."

 

The researchers admit that this technology is a long way from "telepathic" devices that can transmit words or entire sentences without any action on the part of the transmitter, but this study is still groundbreaking, as it is the first direct brain-to-brain communication that resulted from conscious thought. 

 

"We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person," said co- author Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. "One such pathway is, of course, the internet, so our question became, 'Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of Internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France?'"

 

"We hope that in the longer term this could radically change the way we communicate with each other," said Ruffini.

 

The researchers also acknowledge in their paper that advancements in this technology could have profound social implications: "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. The widespread use of human brain-to-brain technologically mediated communication will create novel possibilities for human interrelation with broad social implications that will require new ethical and legislative responses."

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