Brain-to-brain communication – 7,800 kilometres apart

Home Technologist Online Brain-to-brain communication – 7,800 kilometres apart

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated the viability of direct, internet-mediated communication between the minds of two people.

Illustration of brain-to-brain-communication

“In this study, we have achieved conscious brain-to-brain communication,” says neuroscientists Carles Grau in a press release from the University of Barcelona (UB). “In fact, we can use the term mind-to-mind transmission because both [the] emitter and [the] receiver human subjects participate consciously.”

While previous studies have demonstrated the communication between a human brain and a computer – and between a human brain and a mouse – the new study is the first to show the direct communication between two human brains, as reported in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Thinking ‘hola’ and ‘ciao’ in binary code

The experiment involved transmission of the words ‘hola’ and ‘ciao’ between the brains of test persons, located 7,800 kilometres apart in India and France.

Brain-to-brain communicationn via the internet

The sender (L) wore a device – a kind of helmet – that registered the electroencephalographic (EEG) changes in the person’s brain when thinking the word ‘hola’ or ‘ciao’ translated into binary code, consisting of numbers 1 and 0. The sender was instructed to envision actions for each piece of information – thinking of moving the hands for a 1 and the feet for a 0 – until the word was completely encoded in a total of 140 bits. The greeting was then sent to the receiver (R) via the internet and a robotised computer-brain interface that turned the 140 bits into flashes of light. The receiver was able to decipher the message by interpreting a flash as a 1 and the absence of a flash as a 0. (Image: © 2014 Grau et al., PLoS ONE 9(8): e105225. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105225).

A second similar experiment was conducted between individuals in Spain and France. The end results had a total error rate of 15 per cent: five percent for the coding part and 11 per cent for the decoding.

“Critically important proof-of-principle”

According to study co-author Alvaro Pascual-Leone from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School, the direct and non-invasive transmission of a thought from one person to another, without them speaking or writing, is in itself a remarkable step in human communication.

“…but being able to do so across a distance of thousands of miles is a critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications,” he says in a press release. “We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication.”

New ethical and legal challenges

The study authors predict that when the technology is more fully developed, it will open new research opportunities in cognitive, social and clinical neuroscience, including the study of consciousness and direct and non-invasive transmission of feelings and emotions. “We envision that hyperinteraction technologies will eventually have a profound impact on the social structure of our civilisation and raise important ethical issues,” they write in the paper.

“Computers in the not-so-distant future will be able to directly interact with the human brain in a fluent way; thus, they will support brain-to-computer communication as well as brain-to-brain communication routinely,” Grau adds in the UB press release. “Therefore, the wide use of these brain-to-brain communication technologies may create new human interaction possibilities that will involve social implications and require new ethical and legal responses.”

Sources: UB News and EurekAlert

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