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Scientific breakthrough makes telepathy a reality with brain-computer interface

Science and fantasy are so often at odds — one is always trying to disprove the other. But when the two coalesce, amazing things happen. Don’t planes come from our dream of flight?

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By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: September 17, 2014

Illustration: Anthony Biondi

Illustration: Anthony Biondi

Science and fantasy are so often at odds — one is always trying to disprove the other. But when the two coalesce, amazing things happen. Don’t planes come from our dream of flight?

Recently, science and fantasy have partnered up to bring us an even more astonishing venture: telepathy, or brain-to-brain communication.

However, while the idea may be fantastic, the research is grounded in real science.

“It is kind of a technological realization of the dream of telepathy, but it is definitely not magical,” Giulio Ruffini, who co-authored the research, told the Telegraph. “We are using technology to interact electromagnetically with the brain.”

The research uses existing technology to transfer thoughts. BCI, or brain-computer interface, was first researched in the ‘70s. CBI, or computer-brain interface, is more recent and provided the other piece of the puzzle; brain-to-brain communication is made possible by combining the two.

Four volunteers between 28 and 50 tested the technology first as participants in a study.

One participant sent out a thought with BCI, and the other three were assigned to receive it with CBI. The process is non-invasive; it’s less like occlumency lessons with Snape and more like sending an email or a text message — without the text.

It’s also possible to communicate thoughts over long distances. The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG), which records electrical activity via electrodes attached to the scalp, to translate basic messages into binary. Those messages were sent automatically by email from the emitter in Thiruvananthapuram, India to the receiver in Strasbourg, France. Transmission error rates were low — less than 11 per cent in the first experiment, and less than four per cent in the second.

“These initial results suggest new research directions, including the non-invasive direct transmission of emotions and feelings,” the authors suggest in the research published on PLOS One.

Though it may be some time before this technology becomes readily available, the possibilities and pitfalls are already up for discussion.

“Developing brain-to-brain transmissions further will likely raise ethical and sociological questions in the future, such as who gets to transmit these messages and if [sic] what might happen if someone decides to dabble into the dystopian realm of mind control,” Newsweek’s Paul Mejia mused.

On top of enabling thought transmission, the authors of the research suggest future technology could offer a way to approach mental health issues like depression or obsessive-compulsive thought patterns. But the article ends with a reminder that such technology will also have to be regulated, as Mejia suggested.

“The widespread use of human brain-to-brain technologically mediated communication will create novel possibilities for human interrelation with broad social implications that will require new ethical and legislative responses.”

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