Scientist Controls Colleague's Body with Mere Thought: Human-to-Human Brain Interface

First Posted: Aug 28, 2013 08:06 AM EDT

Want to control someone with your thoughts? You may be able to do so in the near future--sort of. Scientists have performed the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface. One person was able to send a brain signal to the other via the Internet to control his hand motions.

In the past, researchers have successfully managed human-to-machine interface. They've created computer programs and even robots that could be controlled merely through thought. Yet it isn't until now that scientists have managed to have one human control another.

In order to actually accomplish this feat, the scientists used electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation. One researcher, Rajesh Rao, wore a cap with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography machine, which reads electrical activity in the brain. The other researcher, Andrea Stocco, remained in a lab across campus wearing a purple swim cap marked with the stimulation site for the transcranial magnetic stimulation coil that was placed directly over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement.

So what happened? Rao looked at his computer screen and played a simple video game with his mind--when he had to fire a cannon at a target he imagined moving his right hand. While Rao imagined moving his hand, Stocco's hand involuntarily moved to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him. To him, it felt like a nervous tic.

"It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain," said Rao in a news release. "This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains."

That's not to say that this technology is a "Vulcan mind meld." Instead, it's only made to read certain kinds of simple brain signals rather than a person's thoughts. In addition, the new technology doesn't give anyone the ability to control your actions against your will.

"Brain-computer interface is something people have been talking about for a long, long time," said Chantel Prat, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We plugged a brain into the most complex computer anyone has ever studied, and that is another brain."

This technology could potentially be used by someone on the ground to help a flight attendant or passenger land an airplane if the pilot becomes incapacitated. It could also allow a person with disabilities to communicate his or her wish for food or water. Currently, the researchers plan to conduct an experiment that would transmit more complex information from one brain to another.

Want to learn more about the brain-to-brain interface? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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