On Aug. 27, researchers at the University of Washington announced that they had created the first interface that links one human brain to another.
Professors Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco claim that they are the first researchers to demonstrate human brain-to-brain communication. In the experiment, Rao sat in his lab and wore a cap with electrodes that was connected to an electroencephalogram (EEG). Meanwhile, Stocco sat in his lab on the other side of the UW campus wearing a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil that was placed directly over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement, and connected via Internet to Rao’s EEG. Rao had a computer monitor, but not a keyboard. Stocco was wearing noise-canceling earbuds and had a computer keyboard, but not a monitor. The two of them then tried to play a video game. Rao looked at his computer monitor and imagined moving his right hand to press a button, at which point Stocco involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him.
“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 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-computer interface is something people have been talking about for a long, long time,” said Chantel Prat, assistant professor in psychology at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, and Stocco’s wife and research partner who helped conduct the experiment. “We plugged a brain into the most complex computer anyone has ever studied, and that is another brain.”
The technologies used for the experiment are already well-known, but have never before been used in this specific manner. Such brain-to-brain communications have been shown between two rats as well as between a human and a rat, however.
While such developments in neuroscience will certainly lead to fears of mind-control devices being created, Prat says that people are overestimating the technology. “There’s no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation,” Prat said.