Scientists from the University of Washington have claimed to have invented the world's first non-invasive brain-to-brain interface called BrainNet. The interface combines electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain signals and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver information to the brain.
BrainNet allows humans to collaborate and solve a task using only brain-to-brain communication.
In the studies completed so far, two of the subjects act as "Senders" whose brain signals are read in real-time using EEG data analysis to extract their decision about whether to rotate a block in a Tetris-like game before it is dropped to fill a line.
Brain signals translated
This information is sent via the internet to the brain of the third subject, the “Receiver” who cannot see the game screen. The decisions are delivered via magnetic stimulation of the receiver's occipital cortex.
This information is integrated and then the receiver can make a decision using an EEG interface about turning the block or keeping it in position. In tests five groups of three subjects successfully used BrainNet to perform the Tetris task, with an average accuracy of 0.813.
By injecting noise into one of the sender's signals to reduce its reliability, the researchers found the receiver could learn which Sender is more reliable and preference their input.
The researchers believe the development of the research could lead to ‘the possibility of future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem solving by humans using a "social network" of connected brains.’
The University of Washington kicks off brain-to-brain research
Human brains were first connected back in 2015 as part of research at the University of Washington.
There, scientists used neuroimaging and neurostimulation technologies to digitize neural content from one subject and deliver the re-coded content into the brain of another subject to collaborative play a game of 20 questions.
Lead author of the study at the University of Washington Andrea Stocco explained:
“Evolution has spent a colossal amount of time to find ways for us and other animals to take information out of our brains and communicate it to other animals in the forms of behavior, speech and so on. But it requires a translation. We can only communicate part of whatever our brain processes. What we are doing is kind of reversing the process a step at a time by opening up this box and taking signals from the brain and with minimal translation, putting them back in another person’s brain."
As well as sending information, the researchers hope they can transmit brain states. For example, sending signals from a focused student to a student with attention difficulties. Researcher Chantel Prat clarified:
“Imagine having someone with ADHD and a neurotypical student. When the non-ADHD student is paying attention, the ADHD student’s brain gets put into a state of greater attention automatically.”