Building on previous research and experiments, researchers at the University of Washington created the first brain-to-brain interface.
While the experiment that enabled the research team to prove humans can communicate information to one another simply through the use of this brain-to-brain interface might seem trivial as content, it holds great promise for future research.
Rajesh Rao, Andrea Stocco and their colleagues at the University of Washington designed the experiment and the equipment involved on the basis of what most would see fit for science fiction scenarios. Detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, their experiment used the brain-to-brain interface to allow participants located approximately one mile apart to play a simple guessing game.
Nonetheless, in Professor of psychology Andrea Stocco’s own words:
“This is the most complex brain-to-brain experiment that has been done in humans. It uses conscious experiences through signals that are experienced visually, and it requires two people to collaborate”.
How did the participants collaborate? Paired in groups of two, they had large, well-defined categories including well-defined objects that were shown to them. More precisely, the respondent could see one object prompted on a computer screen. The inquirer could see possible objects that the respondent is shown, as well as a list of associated questions. The purpose of the game was to correctly define which object was prompted to the respondent.
The latter, connected to an EEG apparatus measuring and recording electric signals in the brain, answered the three questions received from the inquirer with either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However, the answers weren’t sent back to the inquirer in a way we would normally imagine.
The respondent didn’t text back to the inquirer or answer in the chat window where he or she received the questions. By focusing on one of the two LED lights attached to the same computer monitor, these would send an impulse of different frequencies (depending on the answer) to a magnetic coil located behind the inquirer.
From here, the impulse would trigger a visual response. In the case of a positive answer to a question, the phosphene, an intense wavelength flash that may take different forms, was overwhelmingly more powerful than that sent by a negative answer. Thus, the visual cortex of the inquirer was stimulated to understand visually what the responded was answering.
According to the recently published report, the game was completed successfully in 18 percent of the control games. However, during the other rounds, the guessing game was completed successfully in 72 percent of the cases. Surely, the process seems difficult and convoluted at this time, considering the same game would probably take two people in the same room five minutes to complete. Yet, the scientific implications of this thought-provoking experiment loom large over a vast array of applications.
For instance, with fine tuning and non-invasive brain-to-brain interface, researchers could design a new experiment in which brain states can be easily transmitted. An application quoted by the research team includes transmitting a brain state from a highly focused student to a student diagnosed with ADHD.
Photo Credits: washington.edu