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The First Brain-to-Brain Interface Lets 3 People Share Thoughts Directly To Each Other’s Head

[Estimated read time: 3 minutes]
  • A new network named BrainNet enables more than two people to send/receive information directly to/from the brain. 
  • Researchers performed an experiment with 3 participants, in which they had to play a Tetris-like game. 
  • With 5 groups of 3 members, they achieved a success rate of 81.25%. 

Sending thoughts directly to another individual’s head used to be science fiction. A lot has changed after 2013 when neuroscientists from the University of Washington came up with a system for transferring certain types of thoughts directly to other brains, a milestone that turned brain-brain communication into a reality.

Two years later, they successfully connected multiple brains of both rats and monkeys to form an ‘organic’ computer. This time, they have done something incredible.

They have developed a network named BrainNet that enables 3 people to play a collaborative game like Tetris. This is the first multi-person non-invasive brain-to-brain interface for solving problems together, using a ‘social network’ of linked brains.

The Technology Behind The BrainNet

The network is made of two components:

  1. Electroencephalograms (EEGs): for recording brain’s electrical activity.
  2. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): for transmitting data into the brain.

EEG contains several electrodes attached to the skull that can extract the electrical signals in the brain. Any person can easily control or alter his brain signals. For instance, if you see a light flashing at 10 hertz, your brain will emit an electric signal at the same frequency. If you switch your attention to another light, your brain will emit different signal corresponding to the frequency of light you are observing. That is what EEGs can pick up easily.

The architecture of BrainNet | Courtesy of researchers

The second component induces certain electrical activity in particular portions of the brain to manipulate brain activity. It’s like focusing a magnetic pulse onto the occipital cortex, which gives a sense of looking at a flash of light.

Reference: arXiv:1809.08632 | University of Washington | MIT Technology Review

Together, these components allow participants to transmit/receive information directly to/from the brain.

The Experiment

To demonstrate the technology, researchers put 3 people in separate rooms: 2 senders and 1 receiver. They were given a task in which they had to solve a Tetris-like game that involved rotating a block on a screen in order to fit it into the bottom space.

The senders, wearing EEGs, could see the full screen and have to transmit the data to the third person without using any conventional mode of communication. The data they have to send is quite simple, as the block either needs to be rotated 180 degrees or left as it as.

To send the information, senders started flashing lights on either side of the screen at different frequencies to induce a particular brain signal. For example, 15 hertz could imply “rotate” and 17 hertz could imply “do not rotate”.

Screens visible to receiver and sender | Courtesy of researchers 

The receiver, wearing both TMS and EEG, can only see the top half of the screen, so he doesn’t know how to place it on the bottom. However, he receives information through TMS from both senders.  In this experiment, signals either carried one phosphene (to rotate the block) or no flash of light (indicating no rotation is required). Thus, the rate of data is only 1 bit per interaction.

To introduce an element of error, they made one of the senders transmit the wrong information. This was done in a fun way to see how successful the receiver could be. With 5 groups of 3 members, they achieved an accuracy of 81.25%.

Read: Could We Be Performing Quantum Computing In Our Own Brain?

Researchers mentioned that the networks can be scaled by increasing the number of EEG and TMS components. In fact, it could be extended to the Internet (a cloud-based brain-brain interface server), enabling users to collaborate worldwide.

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