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  • The Brain to Brain Interface – Transhumanism 1

    Posted by Charles LaFave

    anders-sandberg-wikimedia

    Anders Sandberg demonstrating a very similar headgear to the type used in the studies below. (Image Credit: Anders Sandberg, Wikimedia)

    They’re called BBIs (short for Brain to Brain Interfaces), and in 2013 Dr. Rajesh Rao, along with Dr. Andrea Stocco and their team at the University of Washington, succeeded in connecting the brains of two participants and moving information back and forth between the two using a non-invasive interface.

    In layman’s terms: They used science to make people telepathic. Kind of.

    These devices use electroencephalography or (EEG) scans to read brain activity and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to send information into the brain. Using these two methods, they were able to essentially create input and output channels from one brain into another.

    It was not, as you might imagine, a Professor Xavier level of stream of consciousness connecting two minds. It was a little rockier than that at first.

    In 2013, using the first interface, Rao and his team were able to detect signals in the brain of one user – specifically ‘motor signals’ aka the signals that move parts of the body – and send those into the mind of another user, where the body parts, in this case a finger, moved. In these trials, the first user was playing a computer game, and their goal was to get the second user to touch the touchpad which created an ‘in game’ action.

    The resulting stimulation, via the TMS, made the receiver’s finger jerk and tap the touchpad.

    On the game screen, viewed by the sender more than a mile away, a cannon would fire and destroy an inbound missile.

    But the connection had two limitations: It was one way, and it didn’t involve conscious effort on the part of the receiver. Making the receiver’s finger twitch was much closer to puppetry than telepathy.

    Which is still notably cool.

    The whole setup is non-invasive, unlike some of the things we’ll be looking at in later parts of the series that involve implants. When using the

    Charles Grau illustrates how the BBI functions. (Image Credit: Charles Grau, from his study, Wikimedia)

    Charles Grau illustrates how the BBI functions. (Image Credit: Charles Grau, from his study, Wikimedia)

    BBI, you wear something that resembles a bathing cap covered in magnets and wires. There’s no direct wiring to the brain.

    At least, not yet.

    Andrea Stocco, who worked with Rao on the earlier studies, did a much expanded version of this with her ten participants. In her study a game of 20 questions was played back and forth.

    In this game, participants who were separated by significant distance selected “Yes” or “No” answers on a screen by focusing on one side (The yes side) or the other (The no side). This sent a stimulation to the TMI of the second user, causing a phosphene (blob) to appear in their field of vision.

    In other words, they got a yes or a no in the form of a spot appearing in the corner of their eye.

    The answers were chosen not with a mouse, but with participant’s concentration. The EEG was able to determine whether they were focusing on the “Yes” part of the screen or the “No”.

    Participants were able to guess the correct answers 72% of the time, with several pairs hitting the high 90 percent and one participant with 100% correct answers.

    As both Stocco and Rao have pointed out, these results fall well below what you’d get with simple voice communication. Or, you know, a text message. But the real power of the results comes from the idea that there is no language barrier, and for people with no verbal abilities (As Stocco notes, someone with Broca’s Aphasia – a disorder where individuals have difficulty producing sounds to match the words they want to say) it would be a life changing technology.

    Yoichi Miyawaki, the subject of a future transhumanism blog, using a similar MRI based technique to decode human sight. (Image Credit: Neuron, Yoichi Miyawaki)

    Yoichi Miyawaki, the subject of a future transhumanism blog, using a similar EEG based technique to decode human sight. (Image Credit: Neuron, Yoichi Miyawaki)

    Eric Sellers, who works with a similar technology bundle at the East Tennessee State University Brain to Computer Interface Laboratory, was able to use it to help patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease and Locked In Syndrome communicate and compose messages with their minds.

    (Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS, causes motor degeneration and eventually can leave people unable to speak or breathe. It’s what Stephen Hawking has. Locked In Syndrome results from brain damage either from strokes or injuries, and results in someone being conscious, but unable to communicate with the outside world. Some patients have minor control over their eyes and can communicate through a series of blinks.)

    The main drawback? Time. It took participants in Stocco and Rao’s studies 20 seconds of concentration to select a “Yes” or “No”. In Seller’s setup it takes around 38 seconds to select one character from a keyboard. One of the first things his Locked In patient, Barry Beck, asked for was a faster system. Sellers told him he was working on it.

    All of these apparatuses are non-invasive. But the future could be a very different picture. In the next few blogs on Transhumanism and Body Modification, we’ll see some folks from around the world who are putting technology right into the human body.

    The Transhumanism Series explores technologies that may be in the near future of body modification, changing the nature of humanity itself. Like to suggest a new technology or mod? Reach me at blog@bodyartforms.com.

    Sources:

    Rao RPN, Stocco A, Bryan M, Sarma D, Youngquist TM, Wu J, et al. (2014) A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans. PLoS ONE 9(11): e111332. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111332

    Stocco A, Prat CS, Losey DM, Cronin JA, Wu J, Abernethy JA, et al. (2015) Playing 20 Questions with the Mind: Collaborative Problem Solving by Humans Using a Brain-to-Brain Interface. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137303. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137303

    Stocco A, Prat CS, Losey DM, Cronin JA, Wu J, Abernethy JA, et al. (2015) Playing 20 Questions with the Mind: Collaborative Problem Solving by Humans Using a Brain-to-Brain Interface. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137303. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137303

     

    Looking for me? Reach me at blog@bodyartforms.com, and on twitter @charleswriter.

     




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