Researchers have made the first step in human telepathy, creating a brain-to-brain interface that allows one person to control the motions of another.

Mind control technology has been making strikes in the medical field, helping paralyzed or disabled patients feed themselves and fly drones as researchers hope to give them more independence. But these instances have only been using a person’s brain activity to power a device, like a robot.

In contrast, researchers at the University of Washington used the brain signals of one person to control the hand motions of another person.

brain to brain interface

The EEG signals from Rajesh Rao’s brain were captured and then transferred over the internet to Andrea Stocco, who was wearing a cap over the part of his brain that would control his hand movement. (Photo: University of Washington/Bryan Djunaedi)

The brain signals were sent over the Internet, allowing Rajesh Rao to move Andrea Stocco’s finger on a keyboard, according to the university’s website.

“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” Stocco said. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”

brain to brain interface

The researchers caution that the technology can only read simple commands from the brain at this point. They also noted that it cannot control a person’s actions against their will. (Photo: University of Washington)

The brain-to-brain interface involves one participant wearing a cap with electrodes that are attached to an electroencephalography machine. This cap picks up the brain’s electrical signals and transfers the information to the other person, who in this experiment was sitting on the other side of the university’s campus, wearing a cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil above his left motor cortex, an area of the brain that controls hand movement.

Here’s more about how the experiment was conducted:

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.

brain-to-brain interface

This diagram details how the information is transferred from one person’s brain to another and translated into movement. (Image: University of Washington)

This video shows how it worked:

Although not quite yet telepathy in that the pair cannot hear each others’ thoughts – Stocco jokingly called it like the “Vulcan mind meld” — Rao said that the technology can only read certain brain signals and also noted that it doesn’t allow one person to control another’s actions against their will.

Moving forward, Rao said the team wants to improve the technology to be a “conversation” between the two brains, instead of just one brain transferring its signals to another.

“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,” Rao said on the university website.

The researchers envision practical applications for such technology in the future like helping someone with no experience land a plane if a pilot became incapacitated. It could also help those with communication disabilities express their thoughts.

Learn more about the experiment and the technology on the research website.

(H/T: Popular Science)

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