The human brain has been communicating with other human brains for hundreds of thousands of years, of course. It’s just that there has always been a middleman, so to speak, in our communication process. That is, human brains communicate with each other via the use of speech, written words, and in the modern era, text-based communication.
But in a series of controlled experiments, researchers were able to get pairs of subjects to electronically “send” instructions to a third subject simply by thinking about them in a specific way.
Three test subjects in separate rooms were wired up to electroencephalographs (EEGs) that recorded their brains’ electrical activity. Two “senders” and a “receiver” played a video game, similar to Tetris, in which a series of blocks would have to be stacked in the correct way. The senders could see the whole puzzle and work out the solution, while the receiver couldn’t see it and had to rely on the senders’ instructions in order to complete the puzzle.
The senders focused their attention on a light, flashing at a high frequency, if the block required rotating to complete the puzzle, and focused on a low-frequency flashing light if the block didn’t require rotation. The focus on the lights created different signals in the brains of the senders — signals that were then transmitted, via a computer network, to the brains of the receivers.
In 13 out of 16 trials, the receivers performed the correct solution to the puzzle based on the senders’ instructions.
In a second set of experiments, researchers sometimes added noise to the signal being sent by the senders, confusing the recipients. However, the receivers quickly learned to identify and follow the more accurate instructions.
So, what does this all mean? At this point, it’s difficult to say, as the research is preliminary and the testing method was, comparatively, rather crude.
However, theoretically, the number of human brains that could be linked together is effectively limitless — the “Internet of Brains,” as researchers are calling it. Already, Elon Musk and the military are working on separate applications of the technology.
Writing in Scientific American, Robert Martone suggests that the process raises ethical concerns.
“Could some future embodiment of a brain-to-brain network enable a sender to have a coercive effect on a receiver, altering the latter’s sense of agency? Could a brain recording from a sender contain information that might someday be extracted and infringe on that person’s privacy? Could these efforts, at some point, compromise an individual’s sense of personhood?” he writes.