Is it possible that two people can communicate remotely? This is a question that seems to have only an affirmative answer in science fiction films. But neuroscience is studying this possibility, which is gaining more and more scientific support.
The brain as an energy generator
The brain generates electrical energy as a result of millions of operations and functions performed by a system of electrochemical circuits through which information is transmitted. Therefore, it is easy to think of the possibility of analyzing or influencing it through electronic devices. Today, thanks to research and the advancement of new technologies, we know more about our brain, how it works and how to influence it.
Some of the various non-invasive or minimally invasive methods that allow us to record or affect brain activity are electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (EMT). Generally speaking, EEG allows us to record and measure brain electrical activity while thanks to EMT, we can temporarily affect and modify certain neural activities by stimulating or inhibiting certain regions of the brain.
Manipulation of brain activity
What does recent research show about advances in the interpretation and manipulation of brain activity?
Today, it has been shown that thanks to an EEG it is possible to decipher simple thoughtsFor example, find out if the person imagines moving part of their body. This is because when we imagine voluntary movement (without realizing it) certain neural circuits are activated in our motor cortex, which is responsible for controlling, planning and executing our movements. So, thanks to the EEG, we can receive information about what the person imagines or thinks and, in a way, as Alejandro Riera (physicist, doctor of neuroscience and researcher at Starlab) mentioned during the last spring meeting of the SCNP, “we are starting to crack the neural code.”
Given this concept, what if we could send or “inject” this information into another brain? Could we achieve long distance inter-brain communication?
Communicating two brains with each other
While this may all sound more like a sci-fi movie, March 28, 2014 the first experiment in history was conducted in which two people shared a conscious thought in a direct brain-to-brain manner. The neuroscientist Carles Grau, professor emeritus at UB and scientific advisor to the company Starlab, and the physicist and mathematician Giulio Ruffini, From the company Starlab and Neuroelectrics in Barcelona, communicated at great distance with their brain. This communication was made at a distance of 7,800 km, the sender being in India and the recipient in France. In this case, the word transmitted was “hello”.
Using the transmitter’s electrode headset and recording it in EEG, it was possible to codify this thought of the word “hello” and transform it into binary code (formed by ones and zeros) via a Brain Computer interface. (BCI). This transformation into a computer alphabet was achieved by establishing a system whereby, when the sender thought of moving the hand, the interface registered a “1”, and when he thought of moving the foot, he registered a “0”, until the entire word is encoded. A total of 140 bits were transmitted with an error range of only 1 to 4%. Using the computer brain interface (CBI) and EMT, the receiver, who had his eyes covered with bandages, received a list of bits that interpreted a “1” when he saw phosphenes (sensation of seeing lights) and a “0” when it does not receive a phosphene, and so on until the entire message is decoded. To achieve this communication, they had to carry out training and knowledge of binary code beforehand and for months (Grau et al., 2014).
This study indicates that it is possible to unite two human minds thanks to the integration of these two neurotechnologies (BCI and CBI) in a non-invasive way, Consciously and with a cortical basis (Grau et al., 2014). Also, through this research, inter-subject communication has been demonstrated through the use of the computer alphabet, which brings us closer to a vision of the human being as a cybernetic organism, or cyborg in a technology company.
Future lines of research
Right now we may be able to send some thoughts, but what are we going to accomplish in the future?
Following this pioneering research, like that of Grau and Ruffini (2014), future avenues of research have been opened up, such as those aiming to direct and non-invasive communication of emotions and feelings. Computers are even expected to be able to interact directly with the human brain.
Improvement is also sought in the clinical setting, treating diseases in which the subject is unable to modulate their thoughts, such as may occur in depression, pain, psychotic thoughts or compulsive obsessions. Finally, research is also carried out to achieve two-way communication in which the same subject can send and receive the message, i.e. integrate EEG and TMS in each subject.
Doubts and possibilities of inter-brain communication
What would be the technological impact on society? Several ethical considerations must be formulated around the possibility of inter-brain communication.
Some of the ethical and moral questions that may arise when thinking about the future development of innovative techniques allowing for more in-depth manipulation of brain activity are already debated and studied.
What positive and negative consequences would follow if the neural code were decoded ?, Would it be an advantage, or rather harm us? ? , To what extent would our personality remain “ours” ?, Where should the limits of transhumanism be set ?, Would it be accessible to all? …
It is clear that the world is moving forward in leaps and bounds, we are evolving and entering a field full of possibilities that can benefit our species and improve the quality of life, but we must not forget the importance and the need to act with humility, equality, justice and responsibility so that transhumanism, as Francis Fukuyama would say, does not end up being “the most dangerous idea in the world”.
- Grau, C., Ginhoux, R., Riera, A., Nguyen, TL., Chauvat, H., Berg, M., … & Ruffini, G. (2014) Conscious brain-to-brain communication in humans Use of non-invasive technologies. PLoS ONE 9 (8): e105225. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0105225