Enthusiasm for the development of direct brain-to-brain communication has long been held by futurists as well as military enthusiasts. Although once a distant sci-fi dream however, it is fast becoming a reality.
In a new study, researchers led by neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis managed to link together the brain activity of a small network of humans. To do so, they placed three people in separate rooms with the aim of having them collaboratively orient a block to fill a gap between other blocks in a video game using brain activity alone. While two people acted as “senders” (being able to see the gap and thus knowing how to fill it), the third person acted as the ‘receiver”, and was blinded from seeing the gap, thus having to solely rely on instructions from the senders (Jiang: 2019).
Throughout the exercise, the two senders were equipped with electroencephalographs (EEGs) to record their brain activity. To convey an instruction to rotate the block, they focused on a light flashing at a high frequency, whereas to signal not to rotate the block, they focused on a flashing light at a low frequency. This brain activity was then sent to the receiver via a magnetic pulse from a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device. If the sender had signaled the receiver to rotate a block, this magnetic pulse would cause them to see a flash of light. In the case of not seeing a flash of light, the receiver would know not to rotate the block (ibid.).
Overall, this test was conducted on five groups of three, with each on average achieving over 80% accuracy on completing the task. Known as “Brain Net”research on this brain network comes after previous work conducted on laboratory animals. Prior working on humans, Nicolelis’s team have had success in linking multiple primate brains together, as well as those of rats (Martone: 2019).
This new study is the first in which researchers have been able to noninvasively link together multiple human brains. So far only for binary decision-making, the authors suggested that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) could also be used to increase the amount of information a sender is able transmit, making any direct brain communication more complex. They also suggested that TMS could be delivered to specific regions of the brain to bring more awareness to particular semantic content in the receiver’s brain.
Jiang, Linxing: Nature
Martone, Robert: Scientific American