A US researcher succeeded in making the finger of his remotely-located colleague move by sending a signal direct to his brain over the Internet. So has the era of remote brain-to-brain connectivity really arrived?

First-Ever Successful Human Brain-to-Brain Interfacing

After the Internet of Things and interpersonal connectivity via social networks, has the era of the brain-to-brain interface now finally arrived? Seemingly the stuff of science fiction, direct transmission from one human brain to another appears to be coming closer to reality. In July this year, a Harvard professor succeeded in remotely controlling movements in rats by means of human thoughts. This time, it was the turn of researchers from the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, who performed what they believe is the first demonstration of non-invasive human-to-human brain interfacing, using a combination of electro-encephalography (EEG) technology and trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Using thought to remotely control actions

The man behind this experiment is Rajesh Rao, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. On 12 August he succeeded in moving the finger of his colleague Andrea Stocco, who was sitting on the other side of the university campus, by sending a signal over the Internet direct to his brain. The two academics had set up a Skype connection but could not see the screens. Rao wore a cap with electrodes hooked up to an EEG machine, which reads electrical activity in the brain. He looked at a computer screen and played a simple video game with his mind. When he was supposed to fire a cannon at a target, he imagined moving his right trigger finger, being careful not to actually move his hand. Almost instantaneously, Stocco, who was wearing a swimming cap marked with the point at which the trans-cranial magnetic stimulation coil was placed directly over his left motor cortex – which controls hand movement – involuntarily moved his right index finger to hit the ‘fire’ button.

EEG technology still in its infancy

After the experiment, Stocco described the feeling of his hand moving involuntarily as similar to a nervous tic. Rao described the excitement of watching imagined action from his brain translated, through a one-way flow of information, into actual action by another brain. The next step would be to engineer a more equitable bilateral conversation between two brains. It is however important to point out that current EEG technology only reads certain kinds of simple brain signals. It cannot be used to read a person’s thoughts and moreover does not give anyone the ability to control another person’s actions against his/her will. This brain-interfacing technique therefore leaves us a very long way away from telepathic communication.

By Ruolin Yang