Hello, creepy-cool 1950s sci-fi mind control meets 21st-century reality.
A pair of U.S. researchers claim they’ve achieved the first ever human-on-human mind-meld. No, not some kooky Star Trek thing where someone put their fingers, semi-tented, on someone else’s noggin, then transferred their marbles over like a Dropbox upload before going off to do something tear-jerkingly heroic. We’re talking about real science here — not a bunch of Men Who Stare at Goats malarkey — involving brain-computer interface research and firing brain signals mind-to-mind like electric blueprints, unleashed on someone else’s gray matter like a cerebral hack in real time.
In the experiment, the researchers wanted to show how it might be possible to “extract” (not spooky at all, that verb) information from one brain, then pipe it to another. What’s more, the researchers wanted the source brain signal to be capable of stimulating the target brain, producing a measurable response — in this case, prompting some sort of physical action.
To put that to the test, University of Washington computer science and engineering professor Rajesh Rao strapped on brainwave-monitoring electrodes, then — without manipulating physical controls — stared at a video game screen, thinking about what he wanted an on-screen cannon to do. When he imagined pressing the “fire” button with his right hand, the EEG grabbed that thought and piped it to Rao’s colleague, Andrea Stocco of UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, sitting on the other side of UW’s campus with electrodes attached to his head.
The result: As Rao was thinking about firing the cannon, Stocco’s right index finger twitched, pushing the space bar on a keyboard to fire the cannon. In other words, Rao’s simply thinking about firing the cannon prompted Stocco’s brain to execute the maneuver without Stocco consciously controlling it.
The experiment was repeated across multiple sessions with increasing accuracy as the sender got better at figuring out how to think about firing the cannon in a way that reliably elicited a response. By the fourth and final session, the researchers claim they achieved “close to perfect performance.”
What does having your brain manipulated by someone else feel like? A nervous tic, said Stocco in the press release, adding, “It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain.”
You can watch a portion of the experiment as it happened in the video above.
That said, Reuters notes the research wasn’t published in a scientific journal, which is unusual, though a UW spokesperson said it was because other researchers are working on similar things, thus “time was of the essence.” Other brain-interface experts were reportedly less impressed: Reuters contacted four, all of whom were “uneasy with the announcement,” with one calling it a “publicity stunt.”