World first: two brains connected by electromagnetic waves

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Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, researcher Rajesh Rao sent a signal to the brain of his colleague Andrea Stocco, which allowed him to move his finger on a keyboard.

"The Internet used to be a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains," says Stocco. "We want to take the knowledge in a head and transmit it directly from brain to brain.

Prof. Rajesh Rao, an ingenious and expert in computer science, has been working on this project for 10 years. It is only in 2011, however, that various breakthroughs in technology have given him hope of achieving a first demonstration of intercerebral human communication.

(Photo credit: Bryan Djunaedi, University of Washington)

What applications?

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There could be a lot of them. The team gives the example of an aircraft in distress whose pilots would be unable to fly, the ground technicians could control the movements of a passenger to land the aircraft. This could also allow paralyzed people to communicate their need for water and food. What's more, the technique works even between two people who don't speak the same language, since brain activity remains the same. Nevertheless, the team plans to first experiment with more complex tasks before testing the method on a larger sample.

Mental meltdown?

Rest assured, we're not in Star Trek yet: the team points out that the technology can only read very simple brain signals, not thoughts.
The receiver must be totally voluntary, it is impossible to do it against his will. In addition, experiments on humans require that a very strict international protocol be followed. "There is no way to operate this technology on a person who is not voluntary".

"It was both exciting and disturbing to see an action thought with my brain become real elsewhere," says Professor Rao. "It was essentially a one-way transfer of information from my brain to his. The next step will be to develop a conversation that goes both ways.

 (Source: University of Washington - August 29, 2013)

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