Boffins show off brain-link's light bulb moment

I can SEE what you're thinking … well, not quite

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The world has come a step closer to eliminating privacy altogether, with University of Washington boffins claiming the most sophisticated brain-to-brain link so far demonstrated.

Thankfully, while it's hailed as a “mind reading” link, the demonstration only lets people transmit a binary yes-or-no, with the university's Andrea Stocco connecting volunteers to play a question-and-answer game over their brain-to-brain connection.

Rather than a spooky sci-fi know-what-you-are-thinking, a “yes/no” response from one person was turned into a stimulation that made someone else see a phosphor blob flash in front of their eyes.

The game “uses conscious experiences through signals that are experienced visually, and it requires two people to collaborate”, Stocco explains in the university's media release.

In the experiment, one volunteer was connected to an EEG machine recording their brain's electrical activity, while the volunteer at the other end of the link had a magnetic coil behind their head.

The first participant, the “respondent”, “is shown an object (for example, a dog) on a computer screen, and the second participant, or 'inquirer,' sees a list of possible objects and associated questions. With the click of a mouse, the inquirer sends a question and the respondent answers 'yes' or 'no' by focusing on one of two flashing LED lights attached to the monitor, which flash at different frequencies”, the explanation says.

A “yes” answer generates a stronger response at the “inquirer's” magnetic coil, causing the player to see a phosphene flash in their vision. That lets the inquirer play a game of asking yes-or-no questions to arrive at the right answer.

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To make sure people couldn't cheat, the researchers had users in darkened rooms “almost a mile apart”, and to make sure inquirers couldn't get their cues from the behaviour of the magnets, they wore earplugs and the researchers adjusted the simulation intensity from one game to the next.

Under test conditions, inquirers were able to determine what the respondent was seeing 72 per cent of the time, compared to just 18 per cent of the time for control pairs that didn't have the support of the “brain link”.

Stocco has previously demonstrated a brain-to-brain remote control hat, which is possibly still more spooky than the current work.

The full report is published at PLOS One, here. ®


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