Brain Network Lets Three People Communicate With Their Thoughts

By Roni Dengler | October 9, 2018 4:59 pm
brain wavelengths from human mind

(Credit: agsandrew/shutterstock)

Scientists are making science fiction a reality. For the first time, three people have read each other’s minds, researchers report in a new study recently posted to the preprint server arXiv. The new interface combines noninvasive brain imaging and brain stimulation to let multiple people communicate through their thoughts. Its creators say the fresh tech could allow humans to solve problems using a “social network” of connected brains.

Brain To Brain

The new interface — called BrainNet — is not the first example of brain-to-brain communication in humans. Direct brain-to-brain interfaces or BBIs first appeared five years ago when Rajesh Rao, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, solved a computer game by moving his colleague’s hand with his thoughts. The BBI that Rao developed with collaborator Andrea Stocco, the person whose hand Rao moved, tapped into his thoughts via electroencephalography, or EEG. EEG detects the electrical activity of brain cells through electrodes placed all over the head. The internet then transferred Rao’s thoughts to Stocco, who sat in a separate room. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a procedure that uses magnetic fields to activate brain cells, delivered the information to Stocco, who described feeling an involuntary twitch to move his hand.

While groundbreaking, previous BBIs have a number of limitations. Only two people can communicate brain-to-brain with these versions. Plus, the communication is one-way. One person sends their thoughts to another person. There’s no back and forth as there is in typical human interactions. Rao and Stocco wanted to find out whether they could create network so more than two brains could collaborate to solve a task that none of the individuals could alone.

Tetris Trio

So, they challenged five groups of three people to a game similar to Tetris. The catch? Only two people in each triplet could see the entire game on their computer screens. The third person could see the falling block, but not the line of tiles at the bottom of the screen. Yet this was the only person with the power to rotate the falling block so it could land in the correct spot. The pair with full-screen advantage had to convey to the person with the controller whether or not to rotate the block with their thoughts since each of the participants was in a different room during the game.

The three-person BBI worked in a similar fashion to Rao and Stocco’s original version. EEGs picked up information from the duo that could see the whole screen and sent it via the Internet to the person with the controls, who took it in through TMS. The controller then executed their choice through EEG — no movement was necessary. Once the controller decided to rotate or the block or not, the thought senders had another opportunity to tell the receiver to make a change. Teams were 81.25 percent accurate in placing the Tetris pieces researchers reported 23 September, which is pretty good considering that in some of the trials the scientists purposefully messed with the sender’s signals.

Worldwide Thoughts

For the first time, the BBI allows “a single brain to both transmit and receive information directly, completely eliminating the need to use any physical movements to convey information,” Rao said.

The researchers currently use a dedicated server to run BrainNet, but they say a cloud-based BBI server that sends information between any set of devices on the network could allow global brain-to-brain communication. Such “social networks” of connected brains could allow “humans to overcome some of the biological limits on human brain evolution,” said Rao.
“If explored in an ethical and socially responsible manner, networks of human brains could produce unprecedented creativity and innovation, and solve some of humanity’s most important scientific and societal problems,” he added.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts, Uncategorized
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  • OWilson

    This reminds me of the telepathy, and kinetic levitation experiments of years ago.

    A success rate above 80% can be statistically achieved, based on the Law of Improbability. Some folks have correctly guessed the outcome of 10 coin tosses and so on.

    The ultimate test is replication, particularly with the most successful of the subjects, and independent corroboration to allow for Selection Bias and Confirmation bias in the researchers, who set out to prove a point.

    In previous experiments where subjects were asked to draw an object another subject was thinking about, the results were often considered to be be “close enough”, by the researchers, so the definition of “success”, is also important.

    I doubt we’ll hear any more from this!

    • Jason Gardner

      Thanks. I’ve been wondering what a moron would have to say about this research and you’ve admirably satisfied my curiosity.

      • OWilson

        And I was wondering when the infantile name calling would start!

        You’ve satisfied my curiosity, thanks! :)

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