Humans Can Directly Communicate Brain-to-Brain Over Thousands of Miles

First Posted: Sep 04, 2014 09:20 AM EDT

Could humans communicate just using their brains? Apparently, it's possible. Scientists have demonstrated the viability of direct brain-to-brain communication in humans.

"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 Alvaro Pascual-Leone, co-author of the new paper describing the research, in a news release. "One such pathway is, of course, the internet, so our question became, 'Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France?'"

In previous studies of Internet-linked electroencephalogram (EEG)-based brain-computer interaction (BCI), scientists have typically made use of communication between a human brain and a 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.

This latest study, though, was a bit different. The researchers added a second human brain on the other end of the system. In all, four healthy participants between the ages of 28 and 50 volunteered. Using EEG, the scientists first translated the greetings "hola" and "ciao" into binary code and then emailed the results from India to France. There, a computer-brain interface transmitted the message to the receiver's brain through non-invasive brain stimulation. The participants experienced this as phosphenes, which are flashes of light in their peripheral vision. In the end, the volunteers correctly received the greetings.

"By using advanced precision neuro-technologies including wireless EEG and robotized TMS, we were able to directly and noninvasively transmit a thought from one person to another, without them having to speak or write," said Pascual-Leone. "This in itself is a remarkable step in human communication, but being able to do so across a distance of thousands of miles is a critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications. We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication."

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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