Published August 28, 2013
There's still no cure for the common cold, but soon we may be able to control each others' body movements.
Researchers at the University of Washington have successfully completed an experiment where one researcher was able to send a brain signal over the Internet to control the hand movements of his colleague.
"The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains," experiment participant and researcher Andrea Stocco told ScienceNewsDaily. "We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain."
Stocco and fellow researcher Rajesh Rao donned swim caps with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography machine that reads electrical activity in the brain. The two men sat in separate labs and a Skype connection was set up so they could communicate during the experiment, although Rao and Stocco could not see each other.
Rao sat before a computer screen and played a video game using only his mind. When he wanted to fire a cannon, he imagined moving his hand to hit the "fire" button without actually moving any part of his body.
Almost simultaneously, Stocco involuntarily moved his hand to push the space bar on his keyboard as though to hit the "fire" button.
"It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain," Rao said. "This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains."
Stocco likened the feeling of having Rao move his finger through thought to that of a twitch.
"I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology," assistant professor in psychology at the UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and Stocco's wife Chantel Prat said. "There's no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation."
The University of Washington experiment sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. Stocco jokingly likened the results to the "Vulcan mind meld."
Stocco explains that should they continue to be successful in their research, it could eventually result in helping a flight attendant land a plane should the pilot become incapacitated.
Watch the experiment below: