In the future, we might be able to use brain implants like Elon Musk’s proposed Neuralink to directly connect both with other electronic devices and human beings; transmitting thoughts through a kind of high-tech telepathy. That’s still a long ways away, but researchers from the University of Washington have passed a milestone on that journey: Creating a BrainNet “social network” of minds which allows three people to send thoughts to one another’s heads. The goal? Playing a game of Tetris, obviously!
“Tetris was used as an example of a task where two humans can see the solution but are unable to act, motivating a collaboration with a third human who can act but is unable to see the solution,” Professor Rajesh Rao, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “Other games with a similar division of labor could also be used. A game such as Tetris provides a familiar and interesting setting for participants in brain-to-brain collaboration experiments.”
As Rao notes, for this particular demonstration, the idea was to get three people in separate rooms collaborating to play a game of telepathic Tetris. Two of the participants were able to see a screen showing the falling Tetris blocks, which may or may not need rotating in order to fit the row of blocks at the bottom of the screen. The other participant was the only person able to control the game but was unable to see what was happening on-screen. By using brain signals taken from the first two participants via an electroencephalogram (EEG), capable of reading electrical activity in the brain, they were able to trigger LED lights, telling the player what move to make.
Next to the idea of sending complex thoughts to other people, this is relatively basic research — although it lays exciting groundwork for future studies.
“Current brain-to-brain interfaces are extremely limited in the amount of information transmitted between brains, preventing practical applications,” Rao acknowledged. “However, with sufficient advances in brain recording and stimulation technologies, one could imagine networks of connected brains in the future producing innovative and creative solutions to humanity’s most important scientific and societal problems within an ethically responsible framework.”
Linxing Jiang, another researcher on the project, told us that: “We see brain-to-brain interfaces opening up futuristic ways for communication. Such interfaces could also be used by people with brain injuries who are paralyzed and unable to communicate, [since] decoding and encoding information from the brain directly might be the only way for them to communicate.”
A paper describing the research, titled “BrainNet: A Multi-Person Brain-to-Brain Interface for Direct Collaboration Between Brains,” is available to read online.