The obsession with finding new ways to decode the human brain and seek to control it continues unabated. The spate of new developments, which now seem to come almost daily, can be attributed to the large commitment made by the U.S. BRAIN project and its much larger European counterpart the Human Brain Project. All told, billions are being spent to unlock every facet of cognition.
One of many areas that is advancing quickly is the ability to connect brains to computers (Brain Computer Interface/BCI), and brains to one another (Brain to Brain Interface/BBI). As we covered in July of last year, Harvard researchers established brain-to-brain control between a human and a lab rat that enabled a human thought to trigger movement in the rat’s tail … wirelessly using ultrasound.
If that wasn’t disturbing enough, a human-to-human remote link via Internet was established just a couple of months later. A researcher was able to control the hand movements of a person jacked in to the “brain net” in a completely different building (video below).
New research announced today aims to go even further.
The Canada Foundation for Innovation has awarded a grant to Prof Janeen Loehr of the University of Saskatchewan for establishing up an EEG lab, recording the brain activity of participants carrying out co-operative, or synchronised, tasks.
This research will attempt to map brain activity and uncover the natural ways that humans utilize unspoken communication with one another, including seemingly anticipatory clues that border on telepathy. Once mapped, the idea could expand toward artificially reproducing or enhancing those connections into fully synchronized tasks. The video below shows the previous link-up via Internet that was established, proving that two brains can be connected and that one person can control the movements of another by thought alone.
The above demonstration is crude by comparison to what researchers seem to believe is theoretically possible. They cite the reality of what we commonly know as “being on the same wavelength” with certain individuals:
People carry out countless synchronised tasks each day, from holding a conversation to walking in stride with someone to playing music together.
All of these require precise timing of actions and a certain amount of mind-reading to anticipate what another person is going to do, in order to be successful.
“Even if you think about exchanging coffee with the cashier, the frequency with which we don’t drop the coffee all over the floor, it’s actually pretty remarkable,” says Loehr.
It’s this kind of mind-reading that Loehr is investigating. Currently, her research concentrates on musicians: how they keep in time with each other and how they adapt to each other’s playing. If, as she hypothesises, this co-ordination is underpinned by being literally on the same wavelength as someone – that is, sharing patterns of brain activity – this may have implications beyond music to other kinds of interpersonal interactions.
Naturally, some of the applications they envision are all on the bright side: helping people to literally establish better connections if they are struggling with interpersonal relations due to social anxiety or some forms of autism.
“Any time you have problems relating interpersonally, you could imagine that that might have something to do with problems of synchronising your brain activity with other people,” she explains.
But the idea of literally synchronizing human thought into a form of artificial telepathy also could be used to create forced conformity. We have certainly seen a push by both government and Big Pharma to redefine what type of behavior is “normal” or “acceptable” or “socially well adjusted” … or even that “conspiracy theorists” might be mentally ill and/or dangerous.
There has also been a disturbing emphasis placed on children and managing their “disorders.” DARPA has solicited portable brain recording devices that could be put “in every classroom in America.” Of course for only noble reasons:
“Having EEGs in every classroom in America”, say DARPA, would allow teachers to devise lesson plans using the devices to help children learn about the biology of “the brain and sensory systems”, by using these brain-to-computer interfaces (BCIs):
“Students could record their own brain activity and download the data to their iPad.”
The Agency also claims the devices could be worn by “average citizens”, which would crowd-source huge amounts of EEG data that could be analysed to advance the understanding of neuroscience.
Sure, because DARPA never misuses technology.
In February of this year, Johns Hopkins University introduced a database of children’s brain scans. It intends to be a Google-style searchable digital library. A $600K grant from the National Institutes of Health backs the database. The lead researcher of the program stated:
We’re creating a pediatric-brain data bank that will let doctors look at MRI brain scans of children who have already been diagnosed with illnesses like epilepsy or psychiatric disorders. It will provide a way to share important new discoveries about how changes in brain structures are linked to brain disorders.
When seen in small context via individual bland and bright scientific press releases like the ones above, it becomes easy to miss the wider picture. Research on the human brain is being invested in all over the world. The staggering amounts being spent are done with the belief that the payoffs will also be staggering. Along the way, we might also be wise to consider the staggering implications if not all of this is for noble ends.
More info: Canada Foundation for Innovation
Hat tip: Neurogadget
Research from Yale:
Scientists explore possibilities of mind reading
‘Mind-Reading’ Scientists Reconstruct Human Faces From Brain Scans
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