Is intercerebral communication remotely possible?
Can it be possible that two individuals can communicate at a distance? This is a question that seems like it can only have an affirmative answer in science fiction movies. But neuroscience is studying this possibility, which has more and more scientific support.
The brain as a generator of energy
The brain generates electrical energy as a result of millions of operations and functions carried out by a system of electro-chemical circuits through which information is transmitted. Therefore, it is easy to think about the possibility of analyzing or influencing it through electronic devices. Currently, thanks to research and advances in new technologies, we know more about our brain, how it works and how to influence it.
Some of the various non-invasive or low invasive methods that allow us to record brain activity or affect it are electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Broadly speaking, the EEG allows us to record and measure brain electrical activity, while Through EMT we can influence and temporarily modify certain neuronal activity by exciting or inhibiting certain brain regions .
The manipulation of brain activity
What do recent research show about advances in interpretation and manipulation of brain activity?
Nowadays, it has been shown that through an EEG it is possible to decipher simple thoughts , as for example, to know if the person is imagining that he moves some part of his body. This is because, when we imagine a voluntary movement (without carrying it out) certain neuronal circuits are activated in our motor cortex, responsible for controlling, planning and executing our movements. Thus, through EEG we can receive certain information about what the person is imagining or thinking and, in some way, as mentioned by Alejandro Riera (Physicist, PhD in neurosciences and researcher in Starlab) at the last spring meeting of the SCNP, "we are beginning to crack the neural code".
Taking this concept into account, what would happen if we could send or "inject" this information to another brain? Could we achieve intercerebral communication at a distance?
Communicating two brains together
Although all this may sound more like a science fiction movie, on March 28, 2014 the first experiment in history was carried out in which two people shared a conscious thought in a direct way between brain-brain. The neuroscientist Carles Grau, professor emeritus of the UB and scientific advisor of the company Starlab, and the physicist and mathematician Giulio Ruffini , of the company Starlab Y Neuroelectrics from Barcelona, they communicated at a great distance with their brains. This communication was made 7,800km away since the issuer was in India and the receiver in France. In this case, the word transmitted was "hello".
Through the helmet with electrodes of the emitter and its registration in EEG it was possible to codify this thought of the word "hello" and transform it into binary code (formed by ones and zeros) through a Brain Computer Interface (BCI). This transformation to computational alphabet was achieved by establishing a system by which, when the issuer thought about moving the hand, the interface registered a "1", and when he thought about moving the foot, he registered a "0", until coding the whole word . In total, 140 bites were transmitted with an error range of only 1-4%. By means of the Computer Brain Interface (CBI) and through the EMT, the receiver, who had his eyes covered with a bandage, received a list of bits interpreting a "1" when he saw phosphenes (sensation of seeing lights) and a "0" when he did not receive phosphenes, and so on until decoding the entire message. In order to achieve this communication, they had to carry out training and knowledge of the binary code previously and for months (Grau et al., 2014).
The present study states that it is possible to unite two human minds through the integration of these two neurotechnologies (BCI and CBI) in a non-invasive way , consciously and with a cortical base (Grau et al., 2014). Likewise, through this research an inter-subject communication has been demonstrated through the use of the computational alphabet, a fact that brings us closer to a vision of the human being as a cybernetic organism, or cyborg in a technological society.
Future research lines
For now, we may be able to convey certain thoughts, but what is to be achieved in the future?
Subsequent to this pioneering research, such as that of Grau and Ruffini (2014), future lines of research have been opened, such as those aimed at direct and non-invasive communication of emotions and feelings . Even computers are expected to interact directly with the human brain.
It also seeks an improvement in the clinical setting, treating diseases in which the subject is unable to modulate their thoughts, as can occur in depression, pain, psychotic thoughts or obsessive compulsive. Finally, research is also being carried out to achieve bidirectional communication in which the same subject can issue and receive the message, that is, integrate the EEG and TMS in each subject.
Doubts and possibilities of intercerebral communication
What would be the technological impact on society? There are several ethical considerations that must be formulated around the possibility of intercerebral communication.
Some of the ethical and moral questions that can arise when thinking about the future development of innovative techniques that allow a more exhaustive manipulation of brain activity are already being debated and studied.
What positive and negative consequences would result if the neural code were decoded? Would it be a benefit, or rather would it harm us? Who would really benefit and whom would it harm? What would be the "freedom of thought"? , To what extent would our personality continue to be "our"? Where should the limits of transhumanism be established? Would it be within everyone's reach? ...
It is clear that the world is advancing by leaps and bounds, we are evolving and entering a field full of possibilities that can benefit our species and improve the quality of life, however Do not forget the importance and necessity of acting with humility, equality, justice and responsibility so that transhumanism, as Francis Fukuyama would say, does not end up being "the most dangerous idea in the world".
- Grau, C., Ginhoux, R., Riera, A., Nguyen, TL., Chauvat, H., Berg, M., ... & Ruffini, G. (2014) Conscious Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans Using Non-Invasive Technologies. PLoS ONE 9 (8): e105225. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0105225