It seems like science fiction. When thinking about telepathy, many people picture little gray aliens or superheroes, not scientists in a laboratory. Yet, researchers in France and at UW in Seattle have come surprisingly close to these feats. Using noninvasive programs such as the Brain to Computer Interface (BCI) and the Magstim transcranial magnetic stimulation machine, researchers have discovered something phenomenal. By sending neural-kinetic impulses via EEG (electroencephalogram), subjects were able to transmit to a partner, or receiver, in another building and have their message interpreted. In two separate experiments, one at the UW and the other at a facility in France, this method of brain to brain communication was said to be successful.
The experiment at UW was remarkably simple. Led by Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco, two individuals were placed in separate buildings. One subject had access to a control panel for a simple missile shooting game with no screen and the other had access to the screen but no controls. Both were connected to an EEG and TMS machine. When the subject with the screen felt the need to fire, the EEG picked up this impulse and sent it via the Internet to the receiver’s computer. The receiver’s TMS then translated the original impulse and caused the receiver’s finger to twitch.
Okay, it may not be science fiction telepathy but still extremely profound!
In the other experiment led by Carles Grau, researches connect two subjects, one stationed in Kerala State India (BCI side), and the other in Strasbourg France (Computer Brain Interface side). Indian subjects were the senders of an optical impulse and French subjects reported when they received this optical flash presented by the TMS. These two experiments, both published on PLOSOne.org, speak volumes about how far we have come technologically when it comes to brain interfaces. Brain to computer communication has been achieved before, yet now we have another human being on the receiving end!
This new technology has many potentially terrifying implications. Will this lead to brain control? Will others be able to read my thoughts when I am hooked up? Grau and his researchers comment in their article about the ethical issues this project raises, stating that this research will be used only in an attempt to transcend language barriers and not for “mind control.” In addition, the ability to actually “read” subject’s thoughts or measure them in any qualitative means has not yet been achieved. Yet who knows, in a few years’ time we may even have to worry about watching what we think in front of others and not simply what we say.