Is it possible that human brains can be controlled by computer interfaces? A team from the U.S. say it has been achieved.
On Tuesday, scientists from the University of Washington claimed to have managed the successful control of a human brain by sending a signal through networks connected by the Internet. Funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and federal agencies, UW professor of computer science and engineering Rajesh Rao, currently researching brain-computer-interfaces, began an experiment to see if electrical impulses could be transferred and translated to control an object or other being.
Rao wore a cap equipped with electrodes, hooked up to an electroencephalography machine -- which reads electrical brain signals -- while mentally playing a simple game on a computer screen. His colleague across campus, Andrea Stocco, wore a similar cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil designed to sit across the part of the brain which controls the right hand's movement.
When Rao mentally chose to "fire" at the computer screen but without physically moving, Stocco involuntarily moved his right index finger to push a space bar in front of another screen -- where Rao would need to physically shift in order to play the computer game. According to Stocco, the feeling was like a "nervous tic" in his hand.
"It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain," Rao said. "This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains."
This brain-computer-interface control test is not the first of its kind. In February, Duke University Medical Center scientists used electronic pulses to "transfer" thoughts between rats, and electrical activity was recently sent across the Internet from a monkey to a robot arm in an experiment between Duke and Japan.
It is possible that these types of interfaces could eventually be used to help paralyzed individuals regain a measure of movement.
It is worth noting, however, that the experiment is yet to be independently verified, and the fact the research has not been published in an academic journal has raised criticism from some of the U.S.'s leading brain-computer-interface experts.
Image credit: University of Washington