August 31, 2013
So he’s not Charles Xavier, but a researcher at the University of Washington was able to get a fellow researcher to push a keyboard button by sending the message through his mind, via computers, Internet, and a couple of wired caps.
Rajesh Rao set up a way to send a “fire” command mentally to colleague Andrea Stocco that would make him press the spacebar on his keyboard who was on the opposite side of the U of W campus.
The video, though short on length and sound, does show what appears to be a successful transmission of Rao’s “fire” command to Stocco’s head. Stocco compared the involuntary reaction to a “nervous twitch”. And Rao’s reaction:
“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.”
Getting into your head. The technology to connect a human brain to a machine has been around for a while; Machines that can read brainwave activity has been used by hospitals for years, recently there are machines that can “read” thoughts in your brain, they’re even developing thought controlled game controllers. But this is the first time one brain was actually “connected” to another. And the implications are, well…
Stocco said years from now the technology could be used, for example, by someone on the ground to help a flight attendant or passenger land an airplane if the pilot becomes incapacitated. Or a person with disabilities could communicate his or her wish, say, for food or water. The brain signals from one person to another would work even if they didn’t speak the same language.
Being able to “upload” and “download” such information into and from one’s brain would be just the tip of the iceberg. Got enough memory-space in your skull for the full Wikipedia site? How much porn can you cram into your cortex? Would you like to lean kung-fu like Neo? Instead of writing memoirs, you can just transfer your memories to tape/disk/net so others can experience what it’s like to be you. Maybe you would like to learn all the languages of the world without shelling out thousands for language courses or Rosetta Stone’s stuff. Hey, let’s try speaking to our PCs in native machine language!
But why stop at just transferring our knowledge? Emotions also play a part in our experiences, so that should also be part of our virtual personality. Better yet, just transfer our whole mind into another person’s head; Just take ‘em over and use their shells to do our bidding. Become a “Turnabout Intruder” of sorts… or maybe act as a Manchurian Candidate. Or, if they ever clone human bodies, you can backup your brain then restore it to your new shell. Real Altered Carbon shit, only without the need for a “stack” to be implanted. Pull on the new flesh like borrowed gloves, and burn your fingers once again.”
Don’t get that personal firewall just yet! The potential help and/or harm of this capability is great, but it’s not exactly advanced enough to make Altered Carbon or Brainstorm possible anytime soon.
Rao cautioned this technology only reads certain kinds of simple brain signals, not a person’s thoughts. And it doesn’t give anyone the ability to control your actions against your will.
Both researchers were in the lab wearing highly specialized equipment and under ideal conditions. They also had to obtain and follow a stringent set of international human-subject testing rules to conduct the demonstration.
“I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology,” (Chantel Prat, assistant professor in psychology at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences) said. “There’s no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation.”
So we can’t experience another person’s life or hijack their bodies, or have a personal army of meatbots, or learn kung-fu like Neo. We can still enjoy some killer fiction with such possibilities while they keep working on this.