In an experiment sure to be the envy of all evil geniuses intent on world domination, researchers at the University of Washington have created the first brain-to-brain interface.
And they did it using the Internet, no less.
“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” University of Washington psychology professor Andrea Stocco said Tuesday in a news release. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”
The experiment took place on campus with Stocco donning a cap equipped with a magnetic coil covering the region of his brain that controls his right hand. In another building, computer science and engineering professor Rajesh Rao wore a cap with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine.
During a simple video game involving a shooting canon, the EEG machine monitored Rao's brain activity. When he wanted to shoot the canon, rather than actually moving his finger to fire, he simply imagined moving his hand.
Meanwhile, Stocco sat with his finger hovering over the space button of a computer. Stocco did not have the video game in front of him, and had no direct contact with Rao; yet when Rao thought about hitting the fire button, Stocco’s hand reflexively hit the space bar, effectively firing for Rao.
"It was akin to the sensation when your eye twitches," Stocco told NBC News. "You know that your eye is twitching, but you don't know when it's coming."
The mind-meld magic used the Internet to transmit Rao's brain signals from the EEG machine to Stocco's computer, and then to translate those signals into a magnetic pulse in Stocco's brain cap.
"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."
The team admits that their experiment was simple and Rao noted that the communication system deals only with basic signals, not a person's actual thoughts.
Yet they say that the technology could eventually lead to a number of uses, such as helping disabled people send distress signals through their thoughts, or, Stocco suggested, allowing people on a plane to send signals to an operator on the ground if the plane's pilot became incapacitated.
And what about all the evil geniuses rubbing their hands in dastardly anticipation?
“I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology," said Chantel Prat, Stocco's wife and research partner. "There’s no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation."
Watch the mind-meld in action below:
Related stories on MNN: