Alright, so maybe it’s not entirely “mental telepathy,” but an international group of researchers is reporting that they have successfully achieved brain-to-brain communication. According to the scientists from the United States, France and Spain, the team has leveraged several technologies, including computers and the Internet, to relay information between test subjects separated by approximately 5,000 miles without carrying out any invasive procedures on the subjects.
Words such as “hola” and “ciao” were telepathically transmitted from a location in India to a location in France using an Internet-connected electroencephalogram (EEG) and robot-assisted and image-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) technologies. When one study participant merely thought of a greeting, the recipient thousands of miles away was aware of the thought occurring, according to the report published in PLOS One.
“We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways,” revealed Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a Harvard Medical School neurology professor.
Generally speaking, previous studies on EEG-based brain-computer interaction (BCI) have used communication between a human brain and computer. In these studies, electrodes attached to a person’s scalp record electrical currents in the brain as a person realizes an action-thought, such as consciously thinking about moving the arm or leg. The computer then interprets that signal and translates it to a control output, such as a robot or wheelchair, the study explains.
However, in this new study, the research team comprised of Pascual-Leone, Giulio Ruffini and Carles Grau of Starlab Barcelona, Spain and Michel Berg, leading a group from Axilum Robotics in Strasbourg, France added a second human brain on the other end of the system. Four healthy participants, aged 28 to 50, participated in the study.
“One of the four subjects was assigned to the brain-computer interface (BCI) branch and was the sender of the words; the other three were assigned to the computer-brain interface (CBI) branch of the experiments and received the messages and had to understand them.”
By utilizing an electroencephalogram connected to the Internet and transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which electromagnetic induction is used to externally stimulate a brain, the researchers proved that it was possible to communicate information from one human brain to another. In order to facilitate this, a computer translated simplistic words into digital binary code, presented by a series of 1s or 0s. Then, the message was emailed from India to France, and delivered via robot to the receiver, who through non-invasive brain stimulation could see flashes of light in their peripheral vision. The subjects receiving the message did not hear or see the words themselves, but were correctly able to report the flashes of light that corresponded to the message.
“We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways,” said Pascual-Leone.
This experiment suggests the possibility of supplementing or bypassing the traditional methods of language-based or motor-based communication, and could have a number of applications. “We hope that in the longer term this could radically change the way we communicate with each other,” the researchers concluded.
Over the past several years, there has been a number of studies surrounding brain-controlled activity, where researchers have used these signals to control everything from drones to prosthetics. As we’ve explored on Bits & Pieces, Atmel chips (like the ATmega328) have been at the heart of several brain-computer interfacing (BCI) innovations. With the emergence of new technologies and a passionate Maker crowd, we can only imagine the endless possibilities the future holds.