The world’s first social network for brains has been created by a group of scientists at the University of Washington, allowing an unprecedented level of communication directly between users’ connected minds. The system uses standard EEG equipment to detect and analyze brain activity in one user’s brain, after which a technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) induces similar electrical activity in certain areas of another user’s brain. Used together, these two processes allow for signals to be sent directly to and from users’ brains. Is the world of physical interaction doomed?
Probably. It has been since the invention of radio and television, maybe even the printed word – but this new development could accelerate things quite a bit. For now, though, the system is still somewhat primitive. Users of this brain-to-brain social network stare at LEDs blinking at different frequencies in order to send or not send a signal to other BrainNet users to cue them to move pieces in a Tetris-like game. Those signals come in the form of phosphenes, the strange lights and shapes the optic nerves experience when pressure is applied to the eyes or when under the influence of some psychedelic drugs.
While this technology might be in its infancy, the researchers claim the results already prove the “first successful demonstration of multi-person non-invasive direct brain-to-brain interaction” and “raise the possibility of future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem solving by humans using a ‘social network’ of connected brains.” Without a doubt, military researchers are already eyeing this technology as a means of improving battlefield communication. Military research is always a step ahead.
For some reason, scientists just really want to join human brains together in a true telepathic link. True brain-to-brain communication has been a goal of neuroscientists and other brain researchers for years and even big tech firms like Facebook are looking into the technology. Before we start crying doomsday over this development, though, I would argue, that we have had brain-to-brain communication for sometime, since the dawn of human communication in general. When we write words in a book, scrawl paintings on a cave wall, or use musical instruments to create vibrations in the air, we are essentially merely brains communicating with one another – through various media, of course.
When you read a book, all of the meaning is created first in the head of the author and then within your own as your your brain interprets the dried ink on paper and applies meaning to them. Isn’t that brain-to-brain communication? Our brains control our hands while we type and our eyes while we read. Our brains decode symbols like letters or numbers and assign or create the meaning on their own – letters don’t have any meaning without the brain to give them meaning. There will always be a medium, even if that medium is electrical signals sent between EEG and TMS headsets. Still, removing the need for a physical medium opens up huge possibilities.
Is this technology merely removing the need for ink and paper, vibrating molecules of air, or any other medium, or does this represent something else and new entirely?