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Human Mind Control

August 27, 2013

Sometimes the lines between science fiction and reality can seem a little hazy – for example, the most recent research on human brain-to-brain interfaces is pretty far out. Researchers Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco at the University of Washington (holla!) have completed a pilot study demonstrating the first successful attempt at sending brain signals from one human to another via the magic of the internet. No seriously, they did mind control through the internet.

The same internet where this exists, in fact.

So here’s the scoop. One person wore a special electrode cap used to non-invasively record electrical activity in the brain. This is called an electroencephalogram (EEG) and it detects neuronal activity, which is your brain’s way of making things happen. Anyway, this person wearing the EEG cap was placed in front of a screen with a simple video game and asked to imagine that they were clicking a button to fire a cannon… but ONLY to imagine it, not actually do it. The EEG can detect the intent of movement as brain activity.

So far so good? Good. The second person was situated in a different room with his hand placed over a keyboard, however he was unable to see the video game screen. His cap was little different because it had something called a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil (TMS) placed directly over his motor cortex. Essentially this is a machine that uses magnetic fields to trick your neurons into firing – if you want to know more you can read about it here. It’s crazy cool.

Magnetic pulses pass through your thick skull and activate the underlying neuronal populations – MAGNETS FTW, AMIRITE?

Because this device was placed directly over the motor cortex, or section of the brain that controls motor functions (such as twitching a finger in this case), it should be able to elicit movement when activated. The idea was to transmit a brain signal through the internet from the first person who was watching the game to the second person who was controlling the game. Activation of the TMS would cause the second person’s hand to push the space bar… thereby firing the virtual cannon at the correct moment, even though they couldn’t even see the screen.

Long story short, this pilot study appears to have worked and it’s the first evidence of human brain-to-brain interfacing being a real thing. To be fair, we’ve seen this work in rodents before, so maybe it’s not the most shocking revelation… but still! It’s pretty dang amazing!

This video is poorly made, but it’s the actual real-life experiment taking place so I figured it was worth showing you guys. Plus it’s under two minutes so suck it up and earn your knowledge bomb.

Obviously right now this technology is mostly novelty and will require serious development; in it’s current form it doesn’t actually help us advance human life. However, the hope is that we can build on this wacky idea in beneficial ways. For example, it might allow us to better communicate with patients that are unable to move or speak but still have functional brains. If these people could use their thoughts to control the motions of a caregiver in order to type, pick out food or objects, select music, etc., it would provide them with a whole new level of freedom that science simply can’t provide at this point. In my opinion, that’s something to write home about.

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From → Biology

One Comment
  1. William permalink

    It’s a neat advancement, but isn’t ‘Human Mind Control’ a bit sensational? It looked more like a twitch (which I understand is at a very precise moment and was sent via the other brain). I’d be more inclined to call it mind control if the guy picked his hand up from the chair, then hit the space bar. Maybe that’s the next step or have they already done that in the catacombs of the UW?

    I’d love to hear your take on another application of TMS, the god helmet.

    Are you worried about potential negative consequences of the technology? Even the noble application you mention is still a bit horrid when you consider you’re enslaving someone. I’ve had someone close to me who was temporarily paralyzed and they told me how scary and frustrating it is, so I’m all for developing technologies for them to communicate. Then you have to start thinking about the more sinister side and it’s rebarbative.

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