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brain-to-brain interface

A pair of rats, thousands of miles apart, was able to successfully communicate information directly using their brains. The lab of Dr. Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University has recently published these findings in a paper that details the use of real-time Brain-to-Brain Interface Technology (BTBI) in rats. The results of this study suggest that science is bringing us ever closer to the reality of ‘telepathic communication.’For this study, pairs of rats were trained to function as an ‘encoder – decoder’ pair. Within this pair, the encoder rat was implanted with an array of recording electrodes, and the decoder rat was implanted with an array of stimulating electrodes – a technique known as Intracortical Micro Stimulation (ICMS). These electrode arrays were implanted either in primary motor or sensory cortex, but were always implanted in the same region of each rat pair.

Once implanted, the encoder rats were trained to do a series of simple motor or sensory tasks, such as pressing the left side of a lever in response to a specific pattern of flashing lights (motor task), or in response to a particular size of hole (sensory task). Their brain signals during the performance of this task were recorded. Similarly, the decoded rats were trained to perform the same tasks in response to different patterns of stimulation received via the implanted array. For the decoder rat, however, this training process was not instantaneous. According to reports from Dr. Nicolelis to the BBC News, “[It] takes about 45 days of training an hour a day. There is a moment in time when… it clicks. Suddenly the [decoder] animal realises: ‘Oops! The solution is in my head. It’s coming to me’ and he gets it right.”

Following training, the encoder decoder pairs were then connected in real-time, with brain signals corresponding to the actions of the encoder rat being converted into stimulation patterns delivered to the decoder rat. The encoder rat was then rewarded not only if it performed the task correctly, but also if the decoder rat was able to perform the task correctly as well. The result of this was that the encoder rat was able to influence the behaviour of the decoder rat such that they made the same choice approximately 70% of the time. This transfer of information was possible even at great distances. Furthermore, the behaviour of the encoder-decoder pair was different from that of simply a computer-decoder pair, which suggests that the cooperative interaction between two neural networks formed a complex network with effects above and beyond those of a simple linear system.

Professor James at Warwick University, the creator of the human Brain-To-Brain interface, commented that “It’s an exciting paper which basically shows that it is possible to take information out of the brain, and it is possible to take information and pump it into the brain.” However, as he points out, it will be a long time before such an invasive procedure is permissible in humans, and scalp surface electrodes do not yet have the capacity to transfer sufficiently detailed information.

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