A team of neuroscientists from Harvard Medical School (USA), Starlab Barcelona (Spain) and Axilum Robotics (France) have achieved a world-first: direct brain-to-brain communication in humans. The messages were sent over a distance of 8,000km (5,000 mi) from a person in France to the recipient in India, and did not require any invasive surgery to be performed. The paper has been published in PLOS ONE.
Co-author of the paper Alvaro Pascual-Leone said, “We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways.”
“One such pathway is, of course, the internet, so our question became, ‘Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France?'”
The messages, which were simple greetings such as ‘ciao’ and ‘hola’, were sent using a device called an electrode-based brain-computer (BCI). The device is placed on the head of the person emitting the message; directly sitting on the user’s scalp. The device records electrical activity in the brain via electroencephalogram (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS); which causes depolarization or hyperpolarization in neurons. Depolarization removes the polarity in the neuron’s cell membrane by making it more positive (less negative) and hyperpolarization is the opposite: making the cell membrane less positive (more negative). The impulses detected in the brain were encoded by the BCI and sent via the internet to the recipient in India.
The device worn by the recipient is a computer-brain interface (CBI), which emits electrical pulses into the brain, which causes them to see flashes of light. These flashes of light are not actually caused by light entering the eye, but instead by the stimulation of phosphenes. The recipient must wear a blindfold in order to ‘see’ the pattern of these flashes and stop the interference of outside light. The flashes correspond to the binary coding that the message had been translated to by the BCI. Therefore the pattern of flashes correspond to 1s and 0s depending on the positions that the recipient sees them in. All that remains is to translate the binary code back into the original message, and direct brain-to-brain communication has been achieved.
“This in itself is a remarkable step in human communication, but being able to do so across a distance of thousands of miles is a critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications. We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication.”
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