August 28, 2013
Washington Researchers Conduct Person-To-Person Mind Control Experiment
[ Watch the Video: Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans: A Pilot Study ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineUsing electrical brain recordings and a type of magnetic stimulation, a University of Washington researcher was reportedly able to transmit a brain signal through the Internet and control the hand motions of a colleague.
In what is being hailed as the first noninvasive person-to-person brain interface, computer science and engineering professor Rajesh Rao transmitted a brain signal to assistant research professor in psychology Andrea Stocco, causing Stocco’s finger to move on a keyboard, the Seattle-based university said in a statement Tuesday.
While researchers at Duke University had previously demonstrated brain-to-brain communication between two rats, and scientists from Harvard University had completed a similar demonstration between a human and a rodent, Rao and Stocco believe their experiment is the first ever successful trial of human-to-human brain interaction.
Their experiment, which was captured on video in its entirety, occurred on August 12. Rao, who was wearing a cap with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography machine, was in one laboratory while Stocco was in another located on the other side of the university’s campus.
For the trial, Stocco was wearing a swim cap that had been marked with the stimulation site for the transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed directly over his left motor cortex – the region of the human brain responsible for controlling the hand movement. A Skype connection was established between the two labs for coordination purposes, but neither researcher could see the other over the voice-over-IP service screens, the school said.
According to the university, Rao sat facing a computer screen and used his mind to play a simple video game. When the software called for him to fire a cannon at a target, he imagined moving his right hand – but made certain he did not actually, physically move it – to cause a cursor to hit the “fire button.”
At almost the same exact time, Stocco, who was wearing noise-cancelling earbuds and was not looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on a keyboard – as if pushing the “fire” button himself. He later compared the involuntary hand movement 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 explained. “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.”
While Stocco humorously referred to it as a “Vulcan mind meld,” this sort of technology would appear to have the potential to recreate such science-fiction style scenarios, the university said. However, Rao noted the technology is only capable of reading simple brain signals. It cannot allow someone to read your thoughts or control your actions against your will, he said.
“Stocco said years from now the technology could be used, for example, by someone on the ground to help a flight attendant or passenger land an airplane if the pilot becomes incapacitated,” the university said. “Or a person with disabilities could communicate his or her wish, say, for food or water. The brain signals from one person to another would work even if they didn’t speak the same language.”
Next, the duo plans to conduct an experiment during which more complex information would be transmitted from one brain to another. If that proves successful, Rao and Stocco would then attempt to replicate the trial on a larger group of participants. Their research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, the US Army Research Office and the National Institutes of Health.
Image 2 (below): University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind. Across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco, right, wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. Stocco’s right index finger moved involuntarily to hit the “fire” button as part of the first human brain-to-brain interface demonstration. Credit: University of Washington