The ability to communicate with others around the world using nothing but your brain has fascinated conspiracy theorists, mystics, and self-proclaimed psychics and spiritualists for centuries. Although many have claimed the powers of telepathy, not a single documented case exists confirming its existence. But not to despair, an international team of neurologists and robotic engineers have pulled off the possible, direct brain-to-brain communication over a distance of 4970.97 miles (8,000 kilometres).
In the interest of testing the boundaries of human communication, research scientists from Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Starlab Barcelona in Spain, and Axilum Robotics in France have forged a collaborative partnership to find innovating means of communication using existing technologies. In a recent press release, Harvard’s Alvaro Pascual-Leone says, “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?'”
And the answer is yes.
Researchers achieved brain-to-brain communication by fitting a device called an electrode-based brain-computer (BCI, pictured left) around the head of a human test subject responsible for emitting information. The BCI interprets the electrical signals in the participant’s brain and converts them into a type of binary code (strings of 1s and 0s) called Bacon’s cipher. Popular Science writer Francie Diep explains that the participant wearing the BCI can enter a message in binary string form into a laptop “by using her thoughts to move the white circle on-screen to different corners of the screen (Upper right corner for “1,” bottom right corner for “0”). This part of the process takes advantage of technology that several labs have developed, to allow people with paralysis to control computer cursors or robot arms.”
The message sent by the “emitter” described above was then received by another participant wearing a different device around their head called a computer-brain interface (CBI, pictured right). The CBI has a robotic arm that sends signals through the receivers head in the form of electrical impulses that make the participant see flashes of light called phosphenes. “As soon as the receivers’ machine gets the emitter’s binary message over the Internet, the machine gets to work,” says Diep. “It moves its robotic arm around, sending phosphenes to the receivers at different positions on their skulls. Flashes appearing in one position correspond to 1s in the emitter’s message, while flashes appearing in another position correspond to 0s.
The experiment involved a person in India transmitting the words “Hola” and “Ciao” to three people in France.
Although the form of telepathy achieved involves technology, what this team of scientists, engineers, and researchers pulled off is nothing less than spectacular. “We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication,” says Pascual-Leone, and with that, the future of human interaction just got a whole lot more intriguing.
Featured image: Chad Baker