It’s not always easy to vocalize your thoughts, but an inability to do so unfortunately means an inability to communicate effectively with others. But what if you could communicate without a single word? What if you could communicate with nothing but your thoughts themselves?

 

In successfully replicating direct brain-to-brain communication between individuals, it seems that scientists at the University of Washington have made it possible, laying the groundwork for what may continue to develop into a form of technological telepathy.

 

We saw news of brain-to-brain interfacing earlier this year, when scientists managed to develop an electronic link between the brains of two rats, then again a few months ago, with the first human brain-to-brain interfacing between subjects from France and India. Now, scientists at the University of Washington have developed the technology even further, according to their latest study.

 

The researchers were interested in examining the possibility of transmitting signals from one person’s brain to another’s via the Internet, and sought to test the possibility of having the sender control the hand motions of the recipient through brain-to-brain interfacing in real time.

 

The process works by hooking the sender up to an electroencephalography machine which translates brain signals into electrical pulses. It then sends these pulses to the recipient over the Internet. The recipient, who wears a swim cap fitted with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil, is then able to receive the commands from the sender and act on them.

 

As the researchers continue to explore this new technology, the goal is ultimately to continue developing its practicality and utility on a wider scale. As co-author of the study Andrea Stocco stated, “the new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology.”

 

Naturally, the limitations of the technology, including the complicated physical hardware involved, suggest that it could be a while before we begin seeing widespread implementation of technologically driven brain-to-brain communication. Nevertheless, the technology certainly suggests that this is the direction in which we are headed. As such, it’s impossible to ignore the implications that this development could have for our society beyond radically changing communication globally.

 

Scientists studied brain-to-brain communication in three pairs of individuals and found that brain signals from the sender successfully prompted the recipient to follow basic motor commands (techtimes.com)

Scientists studied brain-to-brain communication in three pairs of individuals and found that brain signals from the sender successfully prompted the recipient to follow basic motor commands (techtimes.com)

Of course, technology of this sort has the power to act as an invaluable tool in several ways. For example, brain-to-brain interfacing can play a huge role in a medical respect in regards to individuals who suffer from conditions like locked in syndrome or are in a comatose state. For those incapable of communicating as a result of motor disabilities or minimal consciousness, brain-to-brain interfacing can be the key to not only demonstrating active brain function but communicating ideas as well.

 

Such a consequence is indisputably positive.  However, the potential benefits of brain-to-brain interfacing seem to be largely overshadowed by unsettling potential risks associated with the technology.

 

For starters, there’s the clear issue of neural privacy and security. Namely, there is a risk in the Internet serving as the primary component in enabling successful brain-to-brain interfacing. It has been seen on several occasions that the Internet is not foolproof, and hackers have demonstrated time and time again that the web can be a dangerous place. This new technology now begs the question: Can hackers essentially “hack” into people’s brains via neural devices as they do computers? It is a worrisome thought, but one which nevertheless seems plausible, given the circumstance.

 

Expanding on this concept, there is a threat of abusing the technology for coercive purposes. There has been little detail given on the specific dynamics of the sender/receiver relationship. However, whether or not the recipient of brain signals has the ability to reject or sort through these signals should be a primary concern. If they do not, it can quickly lead to brain-to-brain interfacing being used as a method of exercising control over unwilling or non-consenting individuals.

 

Do you think widespread use of brain-to-brain communication would have more positive or negative implications? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi