University of Washington researchers Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco (Photo: University of Washington)
Get ready for the cyborg future. A pair of researchers at the University of Washington has accomplished a first-time ever feat straight out of science fiction novels: a direct brain-to-brain interface.
Here's how it went down: at one end of campus, Rajesh Rao, a computer science professor, was hooked up to an electroencephalography machine, which measured activity in his brain. At the other end of campus, Andrea Stocco, a psychology professor, was wired up for transcranial magnetic stimulation, a non-invasive way of sending signals into the brain. The two were connected via the internet.
Using only his brain to send a signal, Rao caused Stocco to move his finger and hit a key on a keyboard, making cyborg history in the process. Here's a video of the experiment (the "money shot" — which is really just a finger twitching — hits around the 1:09 mark):
To actually get his brain to send the appropriate signal, Rao played a simple video game, using his mind as a controller. Every time he wanted to fire a cannon in the game, he merely had to think about moving his finger — without actually moving it.
"It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain," Rao said. For his part, Stocco likened the feeling of having his finger moved remotely to a nervous tic.
Of course, exciting as this experiment was, it's still a long way from full-on two-way telepathic communication of thoughts and feelings. This is no Vulcan mind meld. But with the rise of technologies like Google Glass, as well as the nascent "biohacker" movement (think magnetic implants and robotic limbs), humans keep merging ever closer with machines.