27 August 2013

Human-to-human brain communication

A very limited form of brain-to-brain communication is described in a story on research at the University of Washington: "Researcher controls colleague’s motions in 1st human brain-to-brain interface" by Doree Armstrong and Michelle Ma, Aug 27, 2013. The experiment used EEG signals via Skype to transmit signals of thoughts of simple movement, which the receiver got via transcranial magnetic stimulation - "a noninvasive way of delivering stimulation to the brain to elicit a response.... in this case, it was placed directly over the brain region that controls a person’s right hand."

I believe there are quite severe limits to the type of signal which could actually be transmitted and received via this mechanism, and the researchers confirm:

At first blush, this breakthrough brings to mind all kinds of science fiction scenarios. Stocco jokingly referred to it as a “Vulcan mind meld.” But Rao cautioned this technology only reads certain kinds of simple brain signals, not a person’s thoughts. And it doesn’t give anyone the ability to control your actions against your will.

Both researchers were in the lab wearing highly specialized equipment and under ideal conditions. They also had to obtain and follow a stringent set of international human-subject testing rules to conduct the demonstration.

“I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology,” Prat said. “There’s no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation.”