Thirty-five years ago, Fusion Thresholdauthor Ronald Sones wondered "Suppose that instead of entering information into a computer through a keyboard, a mechanism only marginally improved during the century or so since it was invented, what if we could somehow transmit information directly from our minds into computers through some kind of radio frequency link? But then further suppose that many computer users could do the same thing, and that these users were linked together through a large communications network, and that the high speed links between the computers and the users were two-way, rather than just one way?'”
Today neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people to share their thoughts and in this case, play a Tetris-style game, reports Science Alert.
The researchers call the system BrainNet, and say it could eventually be used to connect many different minds together, even across the web. They believe the experiment could expand to connect whole networks of people.
It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs) for recording electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields.
"We present BrainNet which, to our knowledge, is the first multi-person non-invasive direct brain-to-brain interface for collaborative problem solving," wrote the researchers in October 2018.
"The interface allows three human subjects to collaborate and solve a task using direct brain-to-brain communication."
"In the experiment set up by the scientists, two 'senders' were connected to EEG electrodes and asked to play a Tetris-style game involving falling blocks," reports David Nield of Science Alert. "They had to decide whether each block needed rotating or not.
"To do this, they were asked to stare at one of two flashing LEDs at either side of the screen – one flashing at 15 Hz and the other at 17 Hz – which produced different signals in the brain that the EEG could pick up on.
"These choices were then relayed to a single 'receiver' through a TMS cap that could generate phantom flashes of light in the receiver's mind, known as phosphenes.
"The receiver couldn't see the whole game area, but had to rotate the falling block if a light flash signal was sent.
"Across five different groups of three people, the researchers hit an average accuracy level of 81.25 percent, which is decent for a first try.
"To add an extra layer of complexity to the game, the senders could add a second round of feedback indicating whether the receiver had made the right call.
"Receivers were able to detect which of the senders was most reliable based on brain communications alone, which the researchers say shows promise for developing systems that deal with more real world scenarios where human unreliability would be a factor.
"And while the current system can only transmit one 'bit' (or flash) of data at a time, the team from the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University thinks the setup can be expanded in the future.
"The same group of researchers has previously been able to link up two brains successfully, getting participants to play a game of 20 questions against each other. Again, phantom phosphene flashes were used to transmit information, in this case 'yes' or 'no'.
"For now it's very slow and not fully reliable, and this work has yet to be peer-reviewed by the neuroscience community, but it's a glimpse at some fanciful ways we could be getting our thoughts across to each other in the future – maybe even pooling mental resources to try and tackle major problems."
"Our results raise the possibility of future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem solving by humans using a 'social network' of connected brains," wrote the team.
Responding to the development, Sones wrote, "In my book, I stated that all of the technology necessary for the linking of human minds was 'now' under active development (late 20th/ early 21st century). What we're seeing is the beginnings of popular publicity about this technological trend.
"Despite a good deal of cultural antipathy to this concept as described in my book, we're currently being faced with the impending reality of this technology."