Brain-Computer Interface Allows Person-to-person Communication Through Power Of Thought  /  Oct. 6, 2009

New research from the University of Southampton has demonstrated that it is possible for communication from person to person through the power of thought — with the help of electrodes, a computer and Internet connection. Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) can be used for capturing brain signals and translating them into commands that allow humans to control (just by thinking) devices such as computers, robots, rehabilitation technology and virtual reality environments. This experiment goes a step further and was conducted by Dr Christopher James from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research. The aim was to expand the current limits of this technology and show that brain-to-brain (B2B) communication is possible.

Dr James comments: “Whilst BCI is no longer a new thing and person to person communication via the nervous system was shown previously in work by Professor Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading, here we show, for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing. We have yet to grasp the full implications of this but there are various scenarios where B2B could be of benefit such as helping people with severe debilitating muscle wasting diseases, or with the so-called ‘locked-in’ syndrome, to communicate and it also has applications for gaming.”

His experiment had one person using BCI to transmit thoughts, translated as a series of binary digits, over the internet to another person whose computer receives the digits and transmits them to the second user’s brain through flashing an LED lamp. While attached to an EEG amplifier, the first person would generate and transmit a series of binary digits, imagining moving their left arm for zero and their right arm for one. The second person was also attached to an EEG amplifier and their PC would pick up the stream of binary digits and flash an LED lamp at two different frequencies, one for zero and the other one for one. The pattern of the flashing LEDs is too subtle to be picked by the second person, but it is picked up by electrodes measuring the visual cortex of the recipient.

The encoded information is then extracted from the brain activity of the second user and the PC can decipher whether a zero or a one was transmitted. This shows true brain-to-brain activity. Dr James is part of the University of Southampton’s Brain-Computer Interfacing Research Programme, which brings together biomedical engineering and the clinical sciences and provides a cohesive scientific basis for rehabilitation research and management. Projects are driven by clinical problems, using cutting-edge signal processing research to produce an investigative tool for advancing knowledge of neurophysiological mechanisms, as well as providing a practical therapeutic system to be used outside a specialised BCI laboratory.

Christopher James
email : jamescj [at] soton.ac [dot] uk


Probably the most famous piece of research undertaken by Professor Warwick is the set of experiments known as Project Cyborg, in which he had a chip implanted into his arm, with the aim of “becoming a cyborg”.

The first stage of this research, which began on August 24, 1998, involved a simple transmitter being implanted beneath Professor Warwick’s skin, and used to control doors, lights, heaters, and other computer-controlled devices based on his proximity. The main purpose of this experiment was to test the limits of what the body would accept, and how easy it would be to receive a meaningful signal from the chip.

The second stage involved a far more complex chip which was implanted on March 14, 2002, and which interfaced directly into Professor Warwick’s nervous system. The electrode array inserted contained around 100 electrodes, of which 25 could be accessed at any one time, whereas the median nerve which it monitored carries many times that number of signals. However, the experiment proved successful, and the signal produced was detailed enough that a robot arm developed by Warwick’s colleague, Dr Peter Kyberd , was able to mimic the actions of Professor Warwick’s own arm.

A highly publicised extension to the experiment, in which a simpler array was implanted into Professor Warwick’s wife – with the aim of creating some form of telepathy or empathyEmpathy is awareness of the thoughts, feelings, or states of mind of others. When we see another human or animal experiencing something positive or negative, we instinctively identify with the other. One must be careful not to confuse empathy with sympath – was also moderately successful, although the implant seems to have been less successful at stimulating signals than at measuring them.

Kevin Warwick
email : k.warwick [at] reading.ac [dot] uk

BY Ben Goertzel  /  July 13, 2009

Consider the “telepathy chip” — a neural implant that allows the wearer to project their thoughts or feelings to others, and receive thoughts or feelings from others. There seems no in-principle reason why this can’t be done, but it raises a huge number of questions philosophically, technically, psychologically and socially. It’s not clear what percentage of a person’s thoughts and feelings would actually be comprehensible to another person — in many cases, you might send your thoughts to someone else only to find them interpreted as 90% gobbledygook mixed up with concepts and images that are recognizable to the receiver. It’s also not too hard to envision some of the social and economic pressures that might arise surrounding telepathy chips. Would you become suspicious if your husband or wife didn’t want to do a telepathy-chip mind-meld after coming home late Friday night? Might you become suspicious of a potential romantic partner who wouldn’t let you peek into his or her mind? What’s she trying to hide? Teams of individuals linked via telepathy chips might achieve far greater efficiency at some sorts of work than any group of detached individuals with similar skill could. Computer programming comes to mind, where the hardest part of the job is often understanding what other people were thinking when they wrote the code that you have to deal with. Social subgroups rejecting telepathy chips could become isolated, backwards communities similar to the Amish today (who, it must be noted, don’t mind their backwardness and isolation at all).

Ultimately, telepathy chips and related BCI devices could lead to the emergence of new forms of intelligence, “mindplexes” composed of independent human minds, yet also possessing a coherent self and consciousness at the higher level of the telepathically-interlinked human group. AI systems could potentially join these mindplexes, reading from telepathy chips and projecting into the user’s minds not just answers to questions, but also original ideas conceived by the AIs that they believe could benefit the humans. Humans who reject telepathic interplay with AIs could be at a significant disadvantage both socially and economically. Nearly any job requiring insight and creativity would benefit from a stream of “push technology” input from a savvy AI. And wouldn’t your date with Jane tonight go better if your natural charming personality were enhanced by a stream of witty anecdotes and sensitive, empathic statements supplied by an AI who has studied Jane’s profile and history in the context of its comprehensive knowledge of human relationships? Potentially all this could lead to the emergence of a global brain spanning human and artificial intelligence.

{Ben Goertzel is the CEO of AI companies Novamente and Biomind, a math Ph.D., writer, philosopher, musician, and all-around futurist maniac.}

Ben Goertzel
email : ben [at] goertzel [dot] org


One thought on “B2B

  1. While the techniques demonstrated in the first video are very interesting, I don’t think this qualifies as brain-to-brain communication the way most people would think of it. It is specifically stated that the receiving person has no awareness of which bit is being received. Information has passed from brain to brain, but I think most people would deny that human “communication” has taken place without the receiver being conscious of the information that has been received. Nevertheless, this is a big step towards true B2B communication.

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