Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Forget Skype. Direct, brain-to-brain communication is possible.
Skype detractors, rejoice: A new telecommunications frontier is upon us. People can now officially read one another's minds.
A landmark study shows that direct, brain-to-brain communication is possible between two humans, even those thousands of miles apart. "Hola" and "ciao" were the two words successfully transmitted from one person's brain in India to another's in France.
An team of neuroscientists and roboticists set up one human subject—the emitter of the communication—with an electrode-based brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, in which a computer interpreted and translated electrical currents from the brain into binary code. The code was transmitted via internet to another subject, the receiver, who was equipped with computer-brain interface (CBI) technologies. With CBI, the computer received the binary code information and translated it into light-based brain stimulation. That receiver's brain was able to interpret that stimulation as language.
"This in itself is a remarkable step in human communication," a co-author of the study, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, told Medical Xpress, "but being able to do so across a distance of thousands of miles is a critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications. We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication."
The authors write that they anticipate a near future where computers interact directly and fluently with human brains, routinely supporting brain-to-brain communications—without clunky hardware.