Scientists have successfully enabled a 'Brain-to-Brain Interface' (BTBI) for the first time: a system, which is not entirely different from telepathy, albeit in its crudest form. The research is being carried out by a team of scientists at Duke University, North Carolina, headed off by Miguel Nicolelis, who has led a number of breakthrough studies in neuroscience - including the development of one of the first mind-controlled bionic arms, in 2003.
Nicolelis and his team installed microelectrodes into the brains of two rats, which were programmed into “encoder” and “decoder” groups. The animals were then trained to complete a number of tasks that involved the exchange of motor and sensory information. The “encoder” rat would perform a task involving external visual and tactile stimuli, before its actions were transferred to the chip in the brain of the “decoder” rat. After a number of tests and experiments, the “decoder” rat learnt to use the transferred information as guidance when completing its own tasks.
In one experiment, the “encoder” rat was trained to discern the width of a gap in a wall using its whiskers. If the opening was narrower than its whiskers, it was to poke its nose through a hole to its left, if the opening was wider, it would poke its nose through a gap to its right. The resultant brain signals were transmitted to the “decoder” rat, which would poke its nose through the holes on its left or right, despite the lack of a gap in its wall to measure. The removal of external stimuli left the rat with only the transmitted brain signals to aid its choice. When the “encoder” rat’s signals reached the chip in the “decoder” rat’s brain, the appropriate part of the motor cortex became more active, thus pushing the “decoder” to make the right choice.
The past decade or more has witnessed a surge of scientific and technological progression in how brain-signals can be utilised to control external aspects of the world, especially in the field of controlling mechanical and electronic devices. Connecting two brains via a direct interface, however, is previously uncharted territory, expanding science into a new frontier of research into its potential usage.
In the full study for this research, which was published at the end of last month, the author optimistically outlines potential uses, claiming it could enable “networks of animal’s brains to exchange, process, and store information and, hence, serve as the basis for studies of novel types of social interaction and for biological computing devices.”
While these prospects for the future are bright, every stroke of brilliance is weighted by its moral implications. What first comes to mind is a dystopian, sci-fi future, where government uses mind control to herd the masses and repress freethinking. Which human would be so eager to install a microchip in their brain, when science fiction has accurately predicted so much already?