My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts.
August 28, 2013 5:04 PM   Subscribe

At the University of Washington, researchers have performed what they believe is the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface.

Playing a computer game with his mind, Dr. Rajesh Rao (prev.) sent a brain signal to Dr. Andrea Stocco on the other side of the UW campus, causing Stocco's finger to move on a keyboard.
"The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains," Stocco said. "We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain."
The researchers captured the full demonstration on video recorded in both labs.

In earlier brain interfacing news: brain waves control wheelchair, brain waves control helicopter.
posted by cairdeas (57 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Excellent. All my mind control fantasies are about to come true. Expect to see a whole lot of dropped balls and wild pitches in the next bunch of Tampa Bay Rays games.

Because God knows the Red Sox aren't going to be able to finish this season off without intervention.

But, joking aside, this is amazingly cool.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:08 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is something just a tad disturbing in the fact that the very first brain-to-brain internet communication is to push a "fire" button.
posted by yoink at 5:15 PM on August 28, 2013 [65 favorites]


Ahh yoink you just gave me the chills.
posted by cairdeas at 5:16 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, they where drift compatible?
posted by The Whelk at 5:17 PM on August 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A GAME?

> NO

TOO BAD. THIS OTHER GUY DOES.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:18 PM on August 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


There is something just a tad disturbing in the fact that the very first brain-to-brain internet communication is to push a "fire" button.
Look on the bright side! Pressing the "fire" button is much better than suppressing the autonomic heartbeat signal...
posted by b1tr0t at 5:18 PM on August 28, 2013


Ahh yoink you just gave me the chills

Brain to brain, across the internet, the old fashioned way.
posted by yoink at 5:19 PM on August 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


"Spock, remove his heartbeat." -- James T. kirk, Court Martial
posted by chaosys at 5:20 PM on August 28, 2013


Wow. This is so cool. That its done with noninvasive methods is the really most revolutionizing aspect. This could be incredibly useful in terms of looking at human to human long distance physical training. Or even physical therapy.
posted by strixus at 5:21 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, does this remind anyone else of Gamer?
posted by chaosys at 5:23 PM on August 28, 2013


Sex will never be the same.
posted by naju at 5:24 PM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


And then all her clothes came off. And I saw everything. I saw it all.
posted by bleep at 5:30 PM on August 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


...is to push a "fire" button.

Remember, you must think in Russian!
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'm idly wondering how this could potentially translate to higher/more abstract brain functions. Motor functions are, as I understand, fairly similarly mapped out in everyone's brain, which is probably why this works. But, can you do something similar with, say, the visual cortex? How about the parts dealing with abstract reasoning? Are they too unique in each person to make a link like this possible even in theory?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:56 PM on August 28, 2013


naju beat me to it. The folks at BoingBoing must be having thirty-five conniptions about now.
posted by jquinby at 6:08 PM on August 28, 2013


And then all her clothes came off. And I saw yt everything. I saw it all.

Linked twice in the same day, in two different threads (granted the other one was directly Patrick Stewart related) and never gets old.
posted by TwoWordReview at 6:11 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Step one in the long road towards the development of Jaegers.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:12 PM on August 28, 2013


Imagine finding someone with the same physical height, weight and strength of Michael Jordan; but without the basketball skills. Now we hook the actual Michael Jordan up to this person and let him teach this player how to execute the jump shot.
posted by humanfont at 6:21 PM on August 28, 2013


There's something seemingly invasive about this noninvasive thing.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:22 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,"

I see your optimism and raise you one 4chan.

no thank you, I have had enough goatse for now
posted by timfinnie at 6:26 PM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


*grump grump*

I'm not very impressed by this thing---we've long known that you can stimulate the motor cortex with TMS, and that you can devise EEG-based approaches to controlling robotic arms and so forth. (Which, to be fair, is pretty amazing.) So now the two things are together in one package, and that's nice.

The thing is, this is not even beginning to approach the intricate sort of decoding of neural representations that you imagine must be necessary for a "brain-to-brain" interface worthy of the name. It's not like it's a hop, skip, and jump from here to making your friend on the receiving end say what card you're holding, or even that you're holding a card at all. Primary motor cortex is only a couple of synapses away from the actual muscle in your finger, and as I see it, that means that goosing the brain there (coarsely!) is not too different from just using one of those ab stimulator belts that cut out the middleman.

I would analogize this whole effort with a computer interface where the "sender" works by looking for lots of activity on the blinky hard-drive light and the "receiver" works by dropping a volleyball on the keyboard. Sure enough, communication! happens! and lo, the receiver computer turned off the screensaver and showed the desktop again! But it's not like the hard drive light watcher is really capable of decoding the representations inside the computer in a rich way, and it's not the case that the volleyball is capable of creating equally intricate representations based on the information coming over the wire.
posted by tss at 6:27 PM on August 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


Like Joakim Ziegler says, it's not really a thought-to-thought interface, is it? The experiment seems to coarsely connect the receiver's motor cortex to the sender's brain. It's remote body control, which is impressive on it's own. It's a thought-controlled interface, sure, which would make some amazing MMI technology if you could combine it with artificially induced kinesthetic feedback. But it's "only" [huge accomplishment nonetheless] generating body-motion impulses in the receiver, not thoughts. This isn't telepathy or thought projection.
"Its effect depends on where the coil is placed; in this case, it was placed directly over the brain region that controls a person's right hand. By activating these neurons, the stimulation convinced the brain that it needed to move the right hand."
So they positioned the receiver to point at the area of the cortex that affects his right hand, and when they stimulated that area, he had an unbidden urge to move that hand. Not translating the same hand motion, just a Rube Goldberg chain reaction of signals.

crossposted with tss
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:36 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Agree with tss entirely, and toss in a few monkey robot arm control videos from Andrew Schwarz's lab

http://motorlab.neurobio.pitt.edu/multimedia.php
posted by tsuipen at 6:49 PM on August 28, 2013


Holy crap i just watched the "all her clothes fell off" thing twice. Jesus christ that's funny. I nearly hurt myself laughing.

Wait...was that me laughing or did someone MAKE me laugh?
posted by sio42 at 6:58 PM on August 28, 2013


Wow. This is so cool. That its done with noninvasive methods is the really most revolutionizing aspect. This could be incredibly useful in terms of creating entirely fearless, remorseless, unconflicted armies of mindless slaves.
posted by newdaddy at 7:00 PM on August 28, 2013


Well, my tinfoil hat isn't looking so silly now, is it?
posted by Max Udargo at 7:06 PM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm not very impressed by this thing

I like that we're living so far into the future that a thought-controlled interface to another person's motor cortex is deemed unimpressive because it isn't actually decoding neural representations.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:08 PM on August 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Good thing that the coil didn't slip a little towards where his sphincter control neurons are.

I'll show myself out...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:19 PM on August 28, 2013


What's unimpressive here isn't the long-term goal or even the actual result necessarily, it's that it just doesn't live up to what it's being called, not even close. It's like winning all-expenses-paid vacation and then learning that the destination is your office's reception area, or maybe the DMV. It is technically true, and then only barely.
posted by tss at 7:25 PM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


...creating entirely fearless, remorseless, unconflicted armies of mindless slaves.

It's worse than that. The slaves would, in fact, be conflicted, fearful and remorseful. They just wouldn't have any choice in the matter. They'd be horrified at what they're doing, yet unable to stop.
posted by VTX at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


You could probably do something more controlled given a structural MRI scan of the target subject and stereotactic positioning of the coil (maybe drumming fingers, say). Without that, I'm not sure one can do much more than pick which limb to twitch.
posted by tsuipen at 7:28 PM on August 28, 2013


My avatar is going to be having some awesome sex, I can tell you that!
posted by Ber at 7:57 PM on August 28, 2013


I'm not really writing this.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:13 PM on August 28, 2013




Metafilter: Conflicted, fearful and remorseful. They just don't have any choice in the matter. They're horrified at what they're doing, yet unable to stop.
posted by cmoj at 8:41 PM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


The slaves would, in fact, be conflicted, fearful and remorseful. They just wouldn't have any choice in the matter. They'd be horrified at what they're doing, yet unable to stop.

Just last night I went to the launch party for Ramez Naam's new book "Crux", and the opening chapter is about exactly that. It's not even "armies of zombie slaves", it's just some petty criminal running the equivalent of an ATM skimmer, which is almost scarier... and here are a couple of scientists actually making it happen. Well, gee, researchers, thanks for beating dystopian sci-fi to the punch... weren't we supposed to have a couple of years to worry about this before it actually started to happen?
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:42 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Peter Watts is gonna be right about the future and we're all fucked.
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 PM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The concept and the implications are certainly thrilling, but the video was anti-climactic at best. It's certainly movement, but is it really definitive proof of a mind meld going on? I don't know.

The subjects themselves were hardly randomly chosen, or uninvested in the results of the experiment. I'm sure they participated in good faith, but with so much riding on this, that finger on the keyboard could have been a fluke or an unconscious response to an inadvertent cue from one of the experimenters watching the screens behind the participants.

My inner Mulder wants to believe, but the Scully in me is still skeptical. Think I'll wait until to see if any other scientists manage to replicate this result before I let myself get too excited.
posted by misha at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2013


I guess it might actually be easier to establish brain-brain links than brain-computer links, since two brains have basically the same parts. You might not have to actually understand and decode some complex signal, just be ale to project it into another brain and that brain can be responsible for the decoding. But we're a long way off from being able to do that with the hardware we have.
posted by miyabo at 9:14 PM on August 28, 2013


Presumably, the signal is already encoded in some fashion, so it shouldn't be impossible to establish brain to computer to brain links. The article says:
Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to Andrea Stocco on the other side of the UW campus, causing Stocco's finger to move on a keyboard.
How long before we see homespun versions or boutique products on the market that link people over the web, and then of course, live video porn sites featuring adult performers submitting to remote control for a fee?

With this tech, if these results aren't overblown and turn out not to be easily (or practically) reproducible, it's a slightly creepier world now than it was before. As if the NSA news hadn't made it creepy enough. You could make the "Happy Helmet" from Ren and Stimpy to force people to behave a certain way, stimulating their brains to arouse certain emotional responses. If they can trigger arousal, maybe eventually anger, or joy, too. You could even encode the original sending brain signal and use it as a kind of program to trigger one or more recorded brain states later.

Well, maybe it's really overblown. That's probably more likely. I'll wait until the results are reproduced to wrap my head in tinfoil.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:22 PM on August 28, 2013


As "revolutionary mind-machine[-mind]" interactions are concerned, this isn't even close to topping the reconstruct mental images into digital video experiment.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 9:31 PM on August 28, 2013


"We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain."
What could possibly go wrong?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I, for one, welcome our new human overlords.
posted by victory_laser at 10:24 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"This could be incredibly useful in terms of creating entirely fearless, remorseless, unconflicted armies of mindless slaves."

Yeah, uh, wouldn't it still be much easier to just use drones/robots? I mean, fly by wire, sure, but humans are pretty expensive.
posted by klangklangston at 1:09 AM on August 29, 2013


This is the worst kind of oversell from a pretty simplistic scientific "advance". I'm with the grumps here.
posted by FrereKhan at 2:14 AM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


They seem to have a bit of difficulty with formulating precisely what their achievement is.

' first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface' - isn't speech a noninvasive human-to-human brain interface?

'The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains' - surely it was always a way to connect brains?

You get what they mean, obviously, but they haven't quite nailed it. Actually the internet doesn't seem to be doing anything here that couldn't be done by a plain old cable - or a length of string, really. I suppose they're going for the 'scientists use internet for mind control' headlines.

My feeling about it all is that the brain comes with pretty efficient input/output peripherals - eyes, ears, mouths, hands - and any new ones you succeed in hot-wiring in aren't likely to be any better.
posted by Segundus at 2:19 AM on August 29, 2013


We thought it was bad when the NSA could just read our emails...
posted by Devonian at 2:24 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just wait until advertisers are able to beam a compelling desire to buy their products. People will put up with it in exchange for the benefit of being able to play the future equivalent of FarmVille.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:20 AM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


So Cyberpunk 2013 was actually an accurate prediction? This alongside the recent advances in cybernetic limb technology as well is pretty awesome. I shall expect the AV4 up next...

Well done Mr Pondsmith. Well done. *claps*
posted by longbaugh at 5:58 AM on August 29, 2013


naju beat me to it. The folks at BoingBoing must be having thirty-five conniptions about now.


It doesn't take much.
posted by Ratio at 10:09 AM on August 29, 2013


naju beat me to it. The folks at BoingBoing must be having thirty-five conniptions about now.


It doesn't take much.


Considering that the Hiptop was designed in part by the guy who would create Android, two years before development even began on the iPhone, I'm actually going to cut Cory some slack on this one.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:29 AM on August 29, 2013


yeah, this is a non-achievement. We've known how to grossly stimulate the motor cortex for decades; it's not exactly forcing someone to do a complicated movement nor does it allow any mind to mind contact. The person receiving the TMS has no idea what the "sender" is thinking or feeling— it's not much different from having your knee knocked with a reflex hammer triggered by someone's brainwaves.
posted by Maias at 5:16 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


note the lack of publication, also.
posted by Maias at 5:16 PM on August 29, 2013


note the lack of publication, also.

Just curious, aside from the impressiveness of this particular experiment, is it noteworthy to not have anything published about an experiment done two weeks ago? I thought the publication process took much longer than that, but I don't know.
posted by cairdeas at 6:30 PM on August 29, 2013


is it noteworthy to not have anything published about an experiment done two weeks ago

Usually a scientist waits until the experiment has been peer-reviewed before selling their work to the media. Otherwise there is no external examination by peers to assess the research, which means all that's left may as well be a press release.
posted by bradleyvoytek at 6:46 PM on August 29, 2013


Very interesting!
posted by cairdeas at 6:48 PM on August 29, 2013


"In addition to studying computers and the brain, Rao has also worked to interpret the 4,000-year-old Indus Valley script, a topic about which he delivered a TED talk in 2011."

Previously.
posted by homunculus at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2013


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