Last month, researchers at Harvard University revealed that they have developed a brain-to-brain interface that can allow humans to control the movements of rats. Now, researchers at the University of Washington are claiming to have gone a step further, creating a brain-to-brain interface to send signals between two humans.
The researchers believe they have created the first noninvasive human brain-to-brain interface. Their technique involves recording electrical signals from one brain and using them to magnetically stimulate another. As a demonstration, they used their setup to send a signal from one brain to another across the UW campus.
Rajesh Rao, a computer science professor at WU played the role of sender, wearing a cap hooked up to an electroencephalography machine. He watched a simple video depicting a pirate ship that could fire its cannons at a target. When he decided to fire, he was instructed to imagine moving his right hand.
That signal was sent across campus to Andrea Stocco, a UW professor of psychology who wore a swim cap. The cap was hooked up for transcranial magnetic stimulation of Stocco's left motor cortex, which is associated with hand movement. His hand was placed over the "fire" button on a keyboard, which he hit as he received Rao's signal. A video of the experiment can be seen below.
"It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain," said Rao. "This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains."
Rao and his colleagues hope the technology can be adapted for the disabled or for emergency situations, such as a passenger being instructed on landing a plane. The researchers also stressed that there is no way their technology could be used for mind control.
"I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology," said Chantel Prat a UW psychology professor who helped conduct the experiment. "There's no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation."
(Image courtesy the University of Washington)