Startimes

How a Message was emailed between Two Brains

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  • 2 years ago
  • Posted: February 5, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired Magazine expressed a very interesting concept about technology, which, for the life of me, I am so drawn to-he said that technology, effectively is the 7th Kingdom of life, extending itself by its very exponential nature. No truer is this than the latest achieved where a message was sent between two geographically apart individuals through activation of the cerebral matter, enough to turn Leonardo da Vinci excitedly turn in his grave! THE INTERNET OF YOU, man this whole internet thing is starting to take avenues that are the stuff of science-fiction (in-fact I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as science fiction, just science-delayed) prompting Ex-Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt to note this very revealing words, “the internet will disappear.”

As internet connections become faster and more of the devices we carry help keep us online, it can sometimes feel like we’re on the verge of spontaneous email communication. Regardless of whether you think near-instant communication is a good thing or not, it’s certainly taking place. It has not even been that long where we routinely waited days or weeks for a letter – today even waiting hours for a reply can feel like an eternity (I am sure you have all felt that).

Mayhap the ultimate way to speed up online communication would be to push towards direct brain-to-brain communication over the inter-web. Let’s say brains were directly connected, there would be no more need for pesky typing – we could simply think of an idea and send it instantly to a friend, whether they are in the same room or half the world away (I am getting goosebumps). We’re not there yet, of course, but a recent study took a first step in that direction, claiming direct brain-to-brain communication over the internet between people thousands of miles from one another.

Fundamentally, this is how it worked: Subject One – in this case a man in Kerala, India – was fitted with a brain-computer interface that records brainwaves through the scalp. That man was then instructed to imagine they were moving either their hands, or their feet. If he imagined moving his feet, the computer recorded a zero. If he imagined moving his hands, it recorded a one.

This thread of zeros and ones was then sent through the internet to a receiver: a man in Strasbourg, France (c’est magnifiq!). He was fitted with something called a TMS robot – a robot designed to deliver strong but short electrical pulses to the brain. When the sender fancied about moving his hands, the TMS robot zapped the receiver’s brain in a way that made him see light despite his eyes being closed. The receiver saw no light if the sender thought about moving his feet.

To make the message more meaningful, the researchers came up with a cipher (a secretive way of writing): one string of zeros and ones (or hands and feet) meant “hola” and another meant “ciao”. The receiver – who had also been taught the cipher – could then decode the signal of lights to interpret which word the sender had sent. Let’s get our knickers in a twist (too late, I already did), but the work is quite simply a proof of concept, as Giulio Ruffini, one of the researchers on the project – and CEO of Starlab, based in Barcelona – is brisk to elaborate. The team did not, as some reported, send words or thoughts or emotions from one brain to another. Instead they did something which is much simpler (this is not to say that we are not heading there, as you can see, we are feeling the Tabula rasa and we’ll build from there).

Before they can send fully formed concepts, the next step for the team is to try to transmit something more complicated than a one or a zero. This could involve stimulating the brain at multiple sites, and shifting beyond using the perception of light as the signal, of course! “The way we have encoded information in the brain, it’s distributed, there is not a single place where the word ‘hello’ is stored,” declares Ruffini. To transmit language directly, he says, the researchers will have to figure out how to stimulate the networked brain in a new way. And if they want to send sensations, they’ll have to figure out how to stimulate those segments (the Limbic system) of the brain, too. What makes the task even more challenging is the fact that the researchers want to perform this stimulation externally, without invasive – but more precise – brain implants, which I think they can, hey, they have already invented an electronic dura (e-Dura) to act us an interface between the Central Nervous System and Peripheral Nervous System with the hopes of fighting paralysis one day and then some. The dura is that outer covering of your cerebral matter where you note ‘bumpy” surfaces.

Of course, with this kind of power lurks danger. Anything sent over the internet can be hacked and tracked. The ability to send messages directly into a person’s brain is, to some, a terrifying concept (a super villain might decide to brain-wash you into submission and by that rule the world, evil laughter!). “It can potentially be some day used in a negative way – you could try to take control of [somebody’s] motor system,” says Ruffini. But the good man points out that researchers are a long way from being able to do anything even remotely so sophisticated. Hey, I hope I am alive to see this come to fruition!

Three Cheers for Science!

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Stefan Wolf
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