The first cerebral social network
-three people transmit thoughts to each other’s heads-
Another common sci-fi scenario has just left the room.
BrainNet, created by researchers at the University of Washington, is a first of a kind.
Participants in this brain-to-brain communication network are able to communicate with each other only using their thoughts. Although at a very primitive level, this is being called thought-level social networking. Nothing between you and your tweet except the bare thought.
So how is such a scientific apex possible? The researchers used electroencephalograms (EEGs) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). These two tools provide researchers the ability to read and write brain signals. The EEGs enable the reading aspect and the TMS, writing.
Three participants in the research test, played a modified Tetris-like game, connected and communicating only through the EEG, TMS and (notably) through a binary set of 15 Hz and 17 Hz light emitters. Each individual brain was in a separate room with no conventional means of communicating.
Now the light emissions are the most interesting part of the whole. Watching a light source (in the experiment an LED) flashing at 15 hertz causes the brain to emit a strong electrical signal at 15 hertz. Change the frequency to 17 hertz and the frequency of the brain signal also changes. Significantly, it changes in a way an EEG can spot with relative ease. Together these three tools make it possible to send and receive signals to the brain and from the brain.
From Two to Three
In 2015 Andrea Stocco with the team of UW researchers used this method to connect two people. The brain to brain connection allowed the two to play a game similar to 20 questions.
To network a third person into the situation required defined functionality. There are two brains which function as senders. They wear EEGs and are able to see a screen of information. The third brain is the receiver. The third person can only see half a screen, the top half of the Tetris game screen. This brain receives signals from the other two through the TMS apparatus. The two senders see a full Tetris game screen. A necessary element to the game.
If you remember how Tetris works, the game piece falls from the top of the screen to the bottom. The player must fit the shape of the piece into the available space at the bottom of the screen. If you see, as the piece falls, that it will not fit, you seek to rotate the piece so it will fit. If you see that the piece will fit, you do nothing. Those sending communicate by their brain signals to either “rotate” or “do not rotate.”
Through various rounds the game piece can move from inception to resting point by the signals communicated from the two senders to the receiver. To make the interaction more complex, the two senders may give information that is incorrect. One or the other sender may communicate “rotate,” when in fact, “do not rotate” is required. This introduces an element of error that behaves in the same way as real social situations.
Fascinating stuff! For sure, it is at a very basic level – playing Tetris is not rocket science. But as a proof of concept it has won approval. Connectivity through the Internet is not lacking. Only purchase of the EEG and TMS equipment is lacking, with some other minor details of management.
With further advances in the mechanism and appropriate software to manage signals from all participants, “A cloud based brain-to-brain interface server could direct information transmission between any set of devices on the brain-to-brain interface network and make it globally operable through the Internet, thereby allowing cloud-based interactions between brains on a global scale.”
That’s the plan according to Stocco and his colleagues. “The pursuit of such brain-to-brain interfaces has the potential to not only open new frontiers in human communication and collaboration, but also provide us with a deeper understanding of the human brain.”