Nation & World News

Don’t Call It A Mind-Meld: Human Brains Connect Via Internet

By Bill Chappell on August 30th, 2013

In what they call “direct brain-to-brain communication in humans,” researchers in Washington state say they’ve successfully passed signals from one mind to another via the Internet, without using surgical implants. In their test, two people collaborated on a task while sitting in different buildings, using only their minds.

“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” researcher Andrea Stocco says, in a release from the University of Washington. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”

But the researchers say that any talk of a “Vulcan mind meld” like that seen on Star Trek is wildly premature, noting that their work focuses on sharing brain signals, not actual thoughts.

Stocco and his collaborator, Rajesh Rao, conducted the experiment on themselves, using electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to detect signals in the sender’s brain and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to stimulate a response in the receiver’s brain. Both technologies are noninvasive, requiring contact only with the subjects’ scalp.

To test their concept, the researchers used a video game that requires pushing a “fire” button to control a cannon. The sender, Rao, could see the game on a screen, but he had no way to fire. At the proper instant, he imagined hitting the button.

“Almost instantaneously, Stocco, who wore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn’t looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon,” according to the school’s release.

Here’s how Stocco explains the sensation, in an interview with NPR member station KPLU in Seattle:

“My arm wanted to move by [itself]. It was actually moving. I saw it, like, lifting up and pressing the button,” he said. “The feeling was that I was quite literally lending parts of my brain to somebody else.”

On a website explaining their research, Rao and Stocco emphasize that the brain impulse was received “only indirectly through the changing magnetic field” of a coil that was placed over the part of the receiver’s brain that controls hand movements.

And they say that as the sender became more adept at generating the signal, the overall success rate neared 100 percent — in their four sessions of testing, the test subjects achieved “close to perfect performance” in the final round.

Because the process doesn’t involve implanting electrodes or other gear, the findings could represent a large step beyond existing research. As we reported earlier this year, scientists have previously used the Internet to pass signals between the brains of rats.

“The next phase of the study will attempt to quantify this transfer of information using a larger pool of human subjects,” the researchers say.

With advances in how we understand the brain, and in computer technology, it’s possible that the experiment’s concepts could eventually help people perform tasks or communicate — after all, the brain signals don’t rely on language.

The approach could also change the way people learn.

“Right now the only way to transfer information from one brain to another is with words,” says Chantel Prat, who collaborated on the research (and who is married to Stocco). Noting that some processes are hard to verbalize, Prat tells CNET that brain-to-brain transfers of data could help, “especially when knowledge cannot be easily translatable into words.”

In the university’s release, Prat also says that we shouldn’t start worrying about our bodies being hijacked by remote mind control just yet.

“There’s no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation,” she says.

As with the research into communications between rats, Rao and Stocco’s brain tests are partially funded by the U.S. military. They have also been aided by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Their pilot study has the approval of the University of Washington Institutional Review Board.

In addition to studying computers and the brain, Rao has also worked to interpret the 4,000-year-old Indus Valley script, a topic about which he delivered a TED talk in 2011.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

A Russian capsule that housed a gecko space-sex experiment. The geckos all died.

Russian Space Experiment On Gecko Sex Goes Awry

A returned space capsule was opened to reveal frozen gecko remains inside, disappointing scientists. On the bright side, the fruit flies that were aboard made it.


Cookie Monster and John Oliver anchor a special report on words.

John Oliver And Cookie Monster, On The News Beat

Just in time for the back-to-school season, funny newsman John Oliver and incorrigible consumer Cookie Monster co-anchor a news special on words.


New U.S. Rules Protect Giant Bluefin Tuna

To reduce the number of giant bluefin tuna killed by fishing fleets, the U.S. is putting out new rules about commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the western Atlantic.


In this handout image made available by the photographer American journalist Steven Sotloff (left) talks to Libyan rebels on the Al Dafniya front line on June 2, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Sotloff was kidnapped in August 2013 near Aleppo, Syria.

Islamic State Claims It Has Beheaded Second American Journalist

The Islamist militant group had threatened to kill Steven Sotloff if the U.S. continued to conduct airstrikes in Iraq. Sotloff’s mother released a video last week pleading for the release of her son.


Celebrity Photo Leak Puts Spotlight On The Cloud, And Security

Publication of private photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities raises new questions about storing personal data online. Apple says its systems weren’t breached.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments