The idea that we’ll someday be able to read each other’s minds, either with technology or because we evolve to become psionic, is as beloved in science fiction as spaceships and energy weapons. But it seemed as out of reach as much of SF… at least until the University of Washington got involved.
Researchers have discovered a way to have “brain-to-brain” communication; instead of speaking, making hand signals, or just counting on our highly evolved ways of reading non-verbal cues, we can just think at people and they’ll know what we want them to understand. But how does it work?
Essentially it’s built on two technologies. The first is the electroencephalograph, or EEG, a technology we’ve had for decades and is pretty commonly used in neurology circles. The other is slightly less well known: transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. TMS uses a constantly fluctuating magnetic field to induce weak electrical currents in the brain and light up different areas, and it’s often used to experiment with different areas of the brain, causing minimal discomfort. Especially compared to cranial surgery.
These technologies were chosen for two reasons: They’ve been heavily studied, and they’re non-invasive. So, two members of the team strapped on some caps and did a test. The results?
“My arm wanted to move by [itself]. It was actually moving. I saw it, like, lifting up and pressing the button,” [the subject] said. “The feeling was that I was quite literally lending parts of my brain to somebody else.”
And with practice, it improved, to nearly 100% of the time determining what signal they wanted to send. It’s a small start, but with a little practice, more technology, and more software, we could soon be sharing absolutely everything directly from our brains. So maybe work on suppressing all those baser urges.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.