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Students Cooperate via a Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface

brain to brain interface

Image credit: Image courtesy of University of Washington. Students across campus cooperated playing computer games through a direct brain-to-brain interface

In science fictions, you may notice that direct brain to brain communication would be amazing a staple in them. However, it would become real in our daily life when some students have allowed their brains to be directly connected so as to cooperate with each other just by their own thoughts.

In February, scientists from Cornell illustrated that once two monkeys were electrically connected, one could manage to control the other’s ability in movement of a joystick. At present, the similar achievements have been made by researchers of the University of Washington in regard to humans

In the paper of PLOS ONE, Professor Rajesh Rao and his team confirmed that by application of electroencephalography (EEG), they were able to record the brain signals of six students. Such signals were then transmitted via the Internet and delivered through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

When the students were playing a computer game, it was necessary for receivers to press a touchpad in order to prevent a virtual city from being bombed by rockets released by a pirate ship, and at the same time, they should also avoid hitting a plane with relief supplies. In this process, timing was very important.

As the sender was able to watch the screen, he was actually aware the time to fire a cannon for shoot-down of the rockets. But, it was the receiver who was responsible for firing, although he could not see the screen.

Their connection made it possible for the sender to influence the motor cortex region of the receiver, thus ordering them to fire the cannon. In prevention of any subtle communication between students in other kinds of approaches, they were staying in separate buildings when they were playing the game.

According to the paper, it was showed that whenever the computer of the receiver got a command for firing, a TMS pulse was transmitted to a pre-selected region of the receiver’s brain. Therefore, such stimulation would allow the receiver’s right hand to do a rapid upward jerk, which then rebounded with enough force so as to fire the cannon. It would take two thirds of a second to work out the whole process, just like movement of the hand’s up and then down.

Control trials were carried out where there was no brain-to-brain channel. It was not surprising that if no input was made from the sender on what time to fire, there were no rockets to be destroyed during the controls.

Based on the tests, of the three pairs of players, when the channels were under operation, success was different, namely, 25%, 37.5% and 83.3% respectively for these three pairs. It seemed that the failure of the least successful pair was not attributed to mal-function of the brain-to-brain channel, but to the fact that the sender disliked playing the game.

While having a dream of teaching without language limitation, the authors admitted that there was a still long to go before they really did do away with words.

As the researchers said, the neural underpinnings of sensorimotor information were easily understood rather than those of conceptual and abstract information. For the time being, they have already got the helping grant, with which they would be intended to move further with their research in other areas of the brain’s behavior, for example, trying to find a approach that one person could be able to send messages to prevent another from falling asleep.

Source: Science Daily

Journal reference: Rao, Rajesh PN, et al. “A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans.” PloS one 9.11 (2014): e111332.