Yet another dispatch from our Didn’t See That One Coming bureau: According to a newly published study, an international team of neuroscientists and robotics engineers have managed a kind of Internet telepathy, sending the thoughts of one person directly to another person online.
Researchers from several different countries worked together on the project, in which a single-word thought was transmitted from one person to three others by way of Internet-linked electroencephalogram (EEG) devices. The sender, located in India, successfully transmitted the words “hola” and “ciao” to receivers in a laboratory in France. A second similar experiment transmitted between Spain and France.
So is this the first instance of technologically-driven Internet telepathy? Kinda-sorta. As usual, the devil is in the details, and it depends on how you define your terms.
It works like this: On the sender’s end, the system uses existing brain-computer interactions (BCI) technology, in which electrodes attached to the scalp monitor specific electric currents in the brain. Those signals trigger particular outputs — such as with prosthetic systems that allow people to move artificial limbs by just thinking about it. In this case, the sender’s “word thoughts” are translated into binary code.
On the receivers’ end, the process is essentially reversed by way of a computer-brain (CBI) interface. The binary code thoughts — “hola” and “ciao” — are delivered to the brain through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) technology, again through the scalp. The receivers experience the messages as phosphenes, or flashes of light in their peripheral vision.
Here’s where the telepathy metaphor goes a bit sideways. Receivers don’t “hear” the words as internal thoughts. Rather, they decode numerical sequences in the flashing phosphenes, sort of like a mental Morse Code. Also, the binary information was not transmitted via some space-age global telecommunications matrix. It was sent by, um, email.
Still, the research team makes its case in the project’s press materials: “By using advanced precision neuro-technologies including wireless EEG and robotized TMS, we were able to directly and noninvasively transmit a thought from one person to another, without them having to speak or write,” writes study coauthor Alvaro Pascual-Leone of Harvard Medical School.
Can’t argue with that. The study was published in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.