How one scientist hacked another scientist's brain
Using already existing technology, University of Washington researchers have proved that it's possible to use one's thoughts to remotely control another person's body movements.
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The experiment has major limitations in that it can only be duplicated under controlled conditions: The two scientists were prepared in advance to use their minds to send and receive signals, and the pair was also specifically wired up to get just one person’s one finger to move, nothing more. In other words, this does not mean that it is now possible to make a person dance against their will, just by thinking about it.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, the scientists say that the experiment represents a push forward in a new research frontier that asks if our brains could supplant our limbs as our most direct means of interacting with the world. Next, the team is hoping to get more than just one finger to move, possibly asking two fingers to type out a word on a keyboard, Stocco said. In the future, their hope is that a surgeon could remotely communicate with someone at the scene of a car accident or that the concept could be of use in any situation “where a person has information that another person needs and that can’t be easily transferred,” says Stocco.
The technology that supports the brain-to-brain interface is not new. It is already used to allow paralyzed people to manipulate objects or have prosthetics patients think their foreign limbs into moving, an application that has been kicked into overdrive in recent years. In the most recent innovation, Dr. Nicolelis is leading a project to have a quadriplegic teenager make the first kick in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, wearing a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton. If successful, it would be the first time that a person is able to mind-control two prosthetics in tandem, a feat that could render the wheelchair obsolete, Nicolelis told the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, other laboratories, including one at Samsung, are hoping to parlay that knowhow into revamping how users interact with their smartphones. Soon, these scientists hope, consumers won’t have to type out a text or tap the screen to open their email – they’ll be able to do it just by thinking about doing it. A similar application already exists in the video game sector, with companies NeuroSky and Emotiv both selling headsets that read brain signals to control games.
Still, our world is a long way from the strange one imagined in Total Recall or Inception, where brains are the malleable playthings of other people. Both the University of Washington experiment and future applications would be useless on an unwilling brain – for the technology to work, the person has to choose to allow his or her brain to be manipulated, says Stocco.
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