Brains communicate over the internet

digitalhealthsummit via Flickr
September 2, 2013

We’ve used the internet to connect computers. Thd next step could be using it to connect our brains. Researchers at the University of Washington have done just that in what they say is the first ever brain-to-brain interface.

Earlier this month researchers sent a signal over the internet from one person’s brain to remotely control the hand movement of another individual, making his index finger move on a keyboard.

This kind of one-way, brain-to-brain communication represents a big step forward in brain-computer interfacing, but the researchers want to take it even further and create two-way communication.

Professor cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, Duje Tadin (Dooyeh tah-deen) says that’s a long way off.

But, he says if technology advances to allow brains to communicate directly, some enormous ethical issues would be raised.

“If you can control another being from long distance, then you really have an issue of is this person acting on his own behalf, or is he being controlled by someone else. And this really sounds like science fiction.”

At first blush, this breakthrough brings to mind all sorts of science fiction scenarios.

It may take years, but eventually researchers say their breakthrough could allow a person with disabilities to communicate their needs, or it could be used by someone on the ground to help land a plane if the pilot becomes incapacitated.

Tadin says those kinds of applications would be very useful in many fields, but it requires the decoding of complex brain processes, and that’s a tall order.

“If you’re a really good pilot there’s going to be many different brain systems all working together at the same time, so if you want to turn a passenger into a really good pilot, you’ll have to figure out how to activate all those brain systems.”

The University of Washington researchers responsible for the breakthrough say the next step is to transfer more complex information from one brain to another.