Imagined action from one brain converted to actual action by another brain

It is not quite telepathy but it is the stuff of science fiction. It could be the beginnings of mind-to-mind communication or perhaps it could be the beginnings of mind-control. An EEG signal was transmitted from one brain to a particular part of another brain and elicited a response from the body of the second. Admittedly only from that part of that body controlled by that part of the second brain.

Which begs the question as to whether any signal stimulating that part of that second brain would have elicited a similar response? But this is not the time to cavil or to find fault. The possibilities are endless. If I could imagine actions which would then be carried out by – say President Obama – we could all live in a better place!!

A brain-to-brain communication between two rats and also between a human and a rat have been reported from Duke University and from Harvard. Now from the University of Washington comes this report of the “first” brain-to-brain communication (via the internet) between two humans.

From the UoW press release:

Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to Andrea Stocco on the other side of the UW campus, causing Stocco’s finger to move on a keyboard.

Brain signals from the “Sender” are recorded. When the computer detects imagined hand movements, a “fire” command is transmitted over the Internet to the TMS machine, which causes an upward movement of the right hand of the “Receiver.” This usually results in the “fire” key being hit. – UoW

Rao, a UW professor of computer science and engineering, has been working on brain-computer interfacing in his lab for more than 10 years and just published a textbook on the subject. In 2011, spurred by the rapid advances in technology, he believed he could demonstrate the concept of human brain-to-brain interfacing. So he partnered with Stocco, a UW research assistant professor in psychology at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

 On Aug. 12, Rao sat in his lab wearing a cap with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography machine, which reads electrical activity in the brain. Stocco was in his 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.

The team had a Skype connection set up so the two labs could coordinate, though neither Rao nor Stocco could see the Skype screens.

Rao 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 hand (being careful not to actually move his hand), causing a cursor to hit the “fire” button. Almost instantaneously, Stocco, who wore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn’t looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon. Stocco compared the feeling of his hand moving involuntarily to that of 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,” Rao said. “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.”

The researchers captured the full demonstration on video recorded in both labs. This video and high-resolution photos also are available on the research website.

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