Researchers Demonstrate Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication

By Will Smith

It sounds like it's ripped from science fiction, but don't fear the brain invasion yet. Brain-to-brain communication is still extremely rudimentary.

University of Washington researchers have demonstrated direct brain-to-brain communication in humans for the first time, using non-invasive methods. One researcher, the sender, was connected to an EEG to monitor his brain activity. The other, the receiver, was hooked up to a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil across campus, which activated a specific part of the left motor cortex of his brain when the proper signal was received.

Photo Credit: University of Washington

Will your next iPhone let you interface directly with your computer? Will you be able to send an instant message using the raw power of your brain? The answer to both of those questions is an unequivocal no. For now, the brain-to-brain connection is limited to very basic motor movements, and it isn't capable of reading actual thoughts. There's no need to panic yet.

In the experiment, the sender controlled a simple computer game with his thoughts, using a fancier version of the EEG toys that we've tested here before. When the sender needed to shoot a cannon, he imagined moving his right hand without actually moving the hand. That imagined movement was detected by the EEG and sent across campus to the receiver, where the transcranial magnetic stimulation coil was used to stimulate his left motor cortex. This caused him to experience a sensation that he described as an involuntary twitch of his right hand, but it was enough to press the space bar on the keyboard in front of him. As you can see in the full video below, this triggered the cannon.

As for your dystopian science-fiction nightmares of meat puppets and mind-reading fascist states, you don't have to worry about the technology being deployed without your knowledge, at least right now. The equipment needed is large and bulky, and requires ideal conditions in the laboratory to work at all. Whew.