Thursday, September 04, 2014

Brain-to-brain communication

Science Alert and many others bring us the gospel about the research reported in PLOS in which thoughts were sent directly from one brain to another brain, using no other human organs, over the Internet. The two sides of the communication were located in France and in Spain or India.

Except for a couple of extra wires in between, the technology is really nothing else than telepathy.

They were sending binary messages (they have used "Ciao vs Hola" instead of "zero vs one", probably because they confused France with Italy LOL) and the input side has typed the words by the power of her will – by moving a ball on the screen via electromagnetic fields detected around her skull.

Correct me if I am wrong but I think that the whole Internet middle part of the experiment is pure marketing – they just sent the information over the Internet in the most ordinary way so of course that there may be thousands of miles in between. The receiving side obtained the information by "phosphenes". Electrical pulses near various parts of the skull are interpreted by the brain as flashes (I mentioned this fact 10 days ago when I talked about the Russian guy who used a collider beam instead of Botox. Bacon's cipher was used, too.

This research combining biology, electromagnetism, and codes is pretty cool and it's interesting to learn how the brain works. But I find the ocean of possible applications staggering. While I am a highly theoretical inclined person, the fantasies about the applications look more intriguing to me than the full understanding how the brains' communication departments work.

I can imagine hundreds of cool projects that someone should pay for and that could be easily realized.

For example, someone should create a machine for Stephen Hawking that would directly read his thoughts which would streamline his communication with the computer inside his wheelchair. I think that the way how he types is pretty obsolete and he wouldn't mind if someone sped it up by a large coefficient.

Second, something similar for more general users. I was so impressed by the speed of shape writing using the Windows Phone 8.1 keyboard that I have also bought the Swype keyboard for my android tablet while the price was still just $1 LOL. It's really, really fast – almost as fast as the physical keyboard.

The curve you write with your finger types "Sounders". The system immediately finds the most likely word you wanted to type – accuracy is not needed but a dictionary is helpful.

I think that someone should create a mind-reading version of Swype that would be just like Swype but you would use your brain's electromagnetic fields – the power of your mind – rather than your fingers to move the cursor. Isn't it possible? Imagine how quickly you could write if the machines learned how to read your Swype thinking efficiently enough.

The number of things that could be usefully controlled by your brain directly seems very large. I mentioned Swype because it's exactly the kind of "fuzzy technology" that has learned how to deal with inaccurate input and very similar algorithms could be useful to decode the data coming from the brain signals – to figure out what you really want to say or do. On the other, receiving side, the room for applications of the "flashes" is also large. It's like a new sense. It may be better to get information in this new "ESP" way instead of via Google glasses. It may be easier to wear a cap instead of glasses.

So please, apply for grants, crowdfunding or what's the term, and so on. Science-fiction could become our everyday life soon. ;-)


  1. Goodness, is it April 1st already?

  2. No, this is completely real, Gene! And Gordon Wilson will tell you that it's really nothing conceptually new, I think.

  3. Gene---it is sort of an extension of Van Eck Phreaking, or the newer version devised by Markus Kuhn at Cambridge. There is already an app for Google Glass that attaches a tiny pad to your forehead and you concentrate to move a line on your Glass screen upwards to trigger a photograph---not much, but a start.
    The brain to keyboard link is, imo in the works.

  4. Dear Lubos, Your write, in passing, "you would use your brain's electromagnetic fields . . ." I sometimes wonder if the electromagnetic fields generated by all the neural activity in the brain might solve the so-called binding problem, i.e., how the brain assembles all the different information it is processing at any one instant into a unified mental state, which we experience as a conscious moment. Any thoughts?

  5. Isn’t it sort of like studying the EM fields around a computer to figure out what the computer is doing? Actually, this would have a better shot, I think.
    Now that speech recognition is a settled art the next step is machine understanding, that is, software programs that allow the computer to “understand” the meaning of human speech.
    I spend a heck of a lot of time trying to figure out what my wife means and could use some help.

  6. Lubos, I believe that technology on the "input side" of this experiment is already quite mature, it's nothing really new.

    You can buy devices with this functionality off the shelf - for example, about 2-3 years ago I bought this one and it really works quite well; although it's probably less capable than technology used in the experiment (just guess, I didn't read the paper yet).

  7. Harvard is not unique. This trend of feminist ideological subjugation of scholarship has been going on for quite some time, and the University of Wisconsin now has a post-doc fellowship in "feminist biology"
    Remember that feminism is a faith, they do not adjust to nature or reality, they re-imagine reality to suit their political goals then they ram-rod it down everyone's throats with threats, abuse, lying and crying

  8. Computers can only do what we already understand. They can do it faster and not tire of it. If the problem is that you are tired of listening to your wife, then a computer is good solution. If the problem is that you don't know how to listen, then it is not a good solution. You might end up needing your wife to explain the computer's output to you.

  9. I spend a heck of a lot of time trying to figure out what my wife means and could use some help.

    I have the same problem, but I doubt that any help would help. :-)

  10. That's very interesting, Luke (and Smoking Frog), but I am confused by your combination of a well-understood and well-defined part of physics, electromagnetism, with the nearly spiritual phenomena in the brain.

    Do you understand that all processes in chemistry, biology, and engineering boil down to the electromagnetic interaction? When we talk about electromagnetic fields, we are not talking about some freaky unusual mirage that appeared. They are everywhere around us and they play a key role in every single process in the matter, its chemical and biological changes, and not just electric engineering.

  11. Dear Gene, I can surely do it with a cell phone. Before someone calls me, a second before the cellphone beeps, my PC speakers already make their clear signal.

    Of course that such things may be done with electronic devices, to a certain extent. The question is just the quantiative one, about how much accuracy about the thinking you may get and whether it's enough to transfer Ciao and Hola with a 85% success rate, or something more than that.

  12. "So when I am asked whether this omnipresent interaction assembles a mental thought, I don't know what to do with that.

    Don't feel bad. Neither does anybody else. :)

  13. Can these gadgets be set to jamming mode? My tin foil hat is not working as well as it used to and I'm getting a lot of messages from the refrigerator again.

  14. Somewhat related:
    There have been strange claims by Michael Persinger, that brains could already be naturally connected via magnetic fields:
    Having seen the video, I don't know what to make out of that.

  15. Lubos - My idea in the 9th grade was similar to what Luke describes. It came of having no idea of discrete operations - not that I nowadays think that the brain is a digital computer - I don't - but that if one has no idea of a digital computer, the idea that fields are doing something magical seems to be the way to go.

    A few years later, I thought the idea was stupid. How can an idea be any good which offers nothing to argue about, nothing to get ahold of, no explanation? Ideas like that annoy me a lot. I actually hear them from adults, e.g., a guy I know who would build an intelligent machine by "having it learn like a baby." That's his idea, nothing more. Really, nothing.

  16. You may try to telepathically tell your washing machine that she tells the fridge that if he doesn't shut up, she will tell the toaster to heat the fridge up really badly.

  17. OK, I don't believe this story. I think that it's much more likely that Cox blackmails other people in the BBC with this rubbish than that they blackmail him. He's a true driving force of this insanity.

  18. Hmm..I thought that the Guardian was simply one of the several English-language versions of Правда.

  19. They must have heard you, and rushed out for some new stats.

  20. Dear Luboš,

    My purpose was to have a go at Cox and his bullshitting, albeit with my bluster-blunderbuss, not you, old boy. It is a very crude weapon and likely to hit bystanders as well. Bang bang! Oh dear, I must be more careful next time! :)

    Of course, whatever you say is fine by me — so far anyway, and by tried & tested induction I very much doubt I'll need to reassess my position on that.

    I can't figure Cox out though. He must know his own limitations and has opened himself up to a great deal of ridicule as a first-class dumbarse, with beckoning non-personhood — that crap that he's spouting will stick to him like shit to a blanket. But it's hard to believe he's that dumb. WTF's going on here?

    Maybe, like bliar, he thinks he's teflon-coated. But eventually he'll find it wears off too. I guess he figures he'll have made enough money by then not to care, just like that shit-faced creep and his grabbing bitch of a wife with a mouth like a torn pocket.

    There needs to be some heavy blowback coming down on that type.

    Where are you, Anders, when real 'civil society' needs you?

  21. I'm not really qualified for the job Sam, I just trust the guy and think he is smart; Followed the independent MH370 investigation team led Evert Day for 5 months. All the best!

  22. I'm trying to understand this statement:

    "Scientists are doing the public a disservice in their attempts to
    communicate certainty in climate change science, often giving a “false sense of debate” by being overly precise, says broadcaster and physicist Professor Brian Cox."

    He apparently is admonishing the scientists of the consensus here. But on what are they being overly precise?

    Later in the article he says:

    “We had it with the Large Hadron Collider and people were saying: “Is it going to destroy the world?” Well of course it bloody isn’t. But [in scientific terms] we’re putting a confidence level on that statement … at the 95% confidence level, but you don’t want to go there,” he said."

    So he doesn't want scientists to put any confidence level on the conclusion of man-made climate change. Even if there is some uncertainty, he apparently wants this fact to be kept from the public.

    At first when I read the part about scientists being overly precise I thought he was referring to predictions of how much temperature was going to rise. For it appears that over about an approx. 17 year period, those predictions were overblown. But now I don't think he was referring to that.

    Actually, I'm not even sure that Cox is even aware of this. I would challenge Cox to look at the numerous proposed theories to explain this deviation from the models, by AGW supporters mind you, and conclude that current models are good enough to make predictions on how the climate will be hundreds of years from now.

    Bob Clark

  23. Just saw this clarification by Cox linked on his Facebook page:

    The difference between science and entertainment.

    Bob Clark

  24. It was clear. It is clear. Cox has a book coming out.

  25. I think we’ve got a Squatch!

    “A new study finds overwhelming odds that humans have contributed to higher global temperatures – so how much are we willing to gamble that it’s wrong?”
    “Our research team also explored the chance of relatively short periods of declining global temperature.
    The research team = Statistician/ecologist/modeler/simulator/methodology and model fitter.

    What were the “chances” of relatively short periods of declining global temperatures occurring before the model was re-methodized and fitted…………

    “We found that rather than being an indicator that global warming is not occurring, the observed number of cooling periods in the past 60 years strongly reinforces the case for human influence.”

    Why 1 chance in 100,000?