By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Shades of Darth Vader and demonic possession? Brain researchers saythat for the first time one person has remotely triggered anotherperson's movement, a flicking finger, through a signal sent to him bythought.
On Aug. 12, University of Washington researcher RajeshRao sent the finger-flicking brain signal to his colleague, AndreaStocco, in a demonstration of human-to-human brain signaling, accordingto a university announcement.
Theannouncement follows a rapid series of advances in the field ofbrain-computer interfaces, devices that read brain signals and typicallytry to translate them into motions in robotic prosthetic arms or legs.Paralyzed patients demonstrated the control of robot arms using signalsfrom brain implants last year, for example. And researchers at DukeUniversity and Harvard have demonstrated the transfer of brain signalsbetween rats, and from a person to a rat, as well. So-called"transcranial magnetic stimulation," which sends magnetic pulses to thebrain, has become a treatment for neurological ailments such asParkinson's disease.
A videoof the experiment released on the lab team's website shows Raoobserving a cannon-firing video game while wearing an electricalbrain-signal reading cap. By imagining his right finger flicking duringthe game, he triggered the actual motion in Stocco, who sat in a distantlab, wearing a cap designed to send magnetic stimulation signals to hisbrain. In effect, Rao's thought was transferred across the campus, viathe Internet, to trigger the motion in Stocco, who described it asfeeling like an involuntary twitch, according to the announcement.
"TheInternet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way toconnect brains," Stocco said, in a statement. "We want to take theknowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain."
The researchers received approval from the university's medical ethics board before proceeding with the experiment.
"Whatthey did is kind of like using a phone signal to trigger a magneticjolt to the brain," says Duke University neuroscientist MiguelNicolelis. "It's not a true brain-to-brain interface where you wouldhave communication of signals between people. This is one-way,"Nicolelis says. "So, I would say it is a little early to declare victoryon creating a true human brain interface."
"It's pretty wild, butit's real," says university spokeswoman Michelle Ma, about the humanbrain-to-brain result. The researchers plan to publish the result in ascientific journal, Ma says, but wanted to establish the priority oftheir claim in a fast-moving field by making the announcement now.