uwbrainresearchNew research that just came out of the University of Washington is groundbreaking, utterly insane and straight out of a sci-fi flick.

In what they call the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface, two UW researchers found a way to control each others minds from across campus.

Yes, that’s right — using the Internet and a few other brain-recording tools, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to his colleague Andrea Stocco and caused Stocco’s hand to move.

For the experiment, Rao wore a cap with electrodes connected to an EEG machine. Stocco, meanwhile, put on a swim cap that could induce magnetic stimulation in the brain, specifically over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement.

uwbrainresearch2As this video shows, Rao started playing a game with cannons and imagined moving his right hand when he wanted to fire. Just he did this, Stocco felt his right index finger move up-and-down — without him doing anything — to push the spacebar he was hovering over and fire the cannon.

Crazy, right?

“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.”

There has been research already done showing off computer-brain interactions, but no one has demonstrated the ability for one human to control the brain of another’s — until now.

The researchers say they want to conduct further research to see if more complex experiments can be performed. The potential applications from this are mind-boggling. Stocco used an example of having a flight attendant fly a plane via someone else’s brain on the ground in case of an emergency in the air, or for helping people who are disabled and can’t speak clearly. When you think about it, the possibilities seem endless.

Check out the video below to see the amazing experiment:

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  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    Thank goodness they make the breakthrough BEFORE the Kaiju arrived!

  • Amy Guo

    Would be cool to have mind controlled workout sessions.

    • pbird

      NO! Horrible!

  • Steven Bierer

    I am underwhelmed, in spite of the nifty press release. Event-related potentials from the motor and pre-motor have been recorded from scalp electrodes for many many decades. And transcranial magnetic stimulation is not exactly new either. All the researchers did here was create a rather impractical link between a signal and a stimulus. I suppose this was a first step for more beneficial brain-machine interfaces down the road, but I think the “control each others’ brains” part of the article’s title is overstated.

    Disclaimer: I’m a biomedical engineer and research scientist at the same university, so perhaps I’m being just a tad jealous. ;)

    • Steven Bierer

      The work IS cool though, and interpreting EEG signals isn’t that easy. As is often the case with science journalism, the over-hype is probably not coming from the researchers themselves. OK, I don’t feel so bad about my original comment now.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    On a more serious note, if you’re in security and paranoid like me, this immediately begs questions about potential for harm and misuse.

    The brain is just a system and all systems can be hacked, misused and compromised.

    This breakthrough is opening access to that system which in turn can enable work for malicious as well as beneficial ends.

  • Viet Nguyen

    Taylor Soper is causing me to write this comment. I can’t control my typing hands.

  • Matt

    So in the receiver just getting a “buzz” that he consciously interprets to press the space bar or are the electrical signals from the sender being broadcast into the receivers mind controlling his fingers?
    If the latter, it got me thinking… My wife has ALS and if someone used this setup to send the signal to her brain to “move your leg” I wonder what would happen. Probably nothing, but it got me thinking.
    Also, I wonder what type of fidelity is possible and could it be recorded and played back later? If it’s just data being sent across a wire, I’d assume it could be. Could you record the signals generated by say someone playing the piano and then play that back into the mind of someone who has never played before. hmm… maybe muscle memory would come into play there…. Still really cool and yes, I agree, a little scary at the same time.

    • Steven Bierer

      Hi Mike. The stimulation is indeed of the brain, at a cortical region that controls finger movement. The stimulation would be coarse by normal standards, and has to be targeted to the effective neural region, but it’s a start. The voltage potentials recorded from the other are is also coarse in many aspect, as well as noisy (there are a lot of neurons firing at any time in the brain), but there are tricks to pull a meaningful signal out.

      As for your wife’s condition (which is harder to deal with day-to-day than many of us can imagine), there are a number of labs working to “bridge the gap” between a command generated in our cortical centers and the muscles ultimately activated, intended to someday benefit someone with a severed spinal cord or possibly a condition such as ALS. See research by Eb Fetz (at U. Washington) and Miguel Nicolelis among others.

      Best of luck to you.

      • Steven Bierer

        err, Matt. Sorry!

  • http://visionaforethought.wordpress.com/ Oflife

    I thought what you did there.

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