Engineering 101

It’s Coming: Brain-to-Brain Interface for Inviting People into Your Mind

By Dawn Allcot

“Get Out of My Head!”

For now, the phrase “Get out of my head,” is a lighthearted joke uttered when someone shares the same thought as a friend or colleague. But thanks to research in telepathic communications and computer technology by a team from the University of Washington, it could become a literal directive in the future.

Or, perhaps you’ll want to invite someone into your mind to help you solve a tricky problem. After all, two (or three) heads are better than one.

That’s exactly what the UW team is working on, developing a method that allows three people to collaborate to solve a problem without uttering a word, using only their minds.

The proof-of-concept is found in a Tetris-like game called “BrainNet,” which uses a brain-to-brain interface of three people, with two people sending information to a third recipient, who can, in turn, both send and receive information to the other two.

The game shows a block at the top of the screen and a line that needs to be completed at the bottom. Two people, the Senders, can see both the block and the line but can’t control the game. The third person, the Receiver, can see only the block but can tell the game whether to rotate the block to successfully complete the line. Each Sender decides whether the block needs to be rotated and then passes that information from their brain, through the internet and to the brain of the Receiver. Then the Receiver processes that information and sends a command — to rotate or not rotate the block — to the game directly from their brain, hopefully completing and clearing the line.

The team asked five groups of participants to play 16 rounds of the game. For each group, all three participants were in different rooms and couldn’t see, hear or speak to one another.

On average, each group successfully cleared the line 81% of the time, or for 13 out of 16 trials.

The team hopes that these results pave the way for future brain-to-brain interfaces that allow people to collaborate to solve tough problems that one brain alone couldn’t solve but acknowledges that the research is still in its earliest stages.

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