Scientists Make Headway in Mind-Control

3:32 PM, Aug 27, 2013   |    comments
University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind. Across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco, right, wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. Stocco’s right index finger moved involuntarily to hit the “fire” button as part of the first human brain-to-brain interface demonstration. (Photo: USA Today via University of Washington)
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Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Shades of Darth Vader and demonic possession? Brain researchers say that for the first time one person has remotely triggered another person's movement, a flicking finger, through a signal sent to him by thought.

On Aug. 12, University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao sent the finger-flicking brain signal to his colleague, Andrea Stocco, in a first demonstration of human-to-human brain control, according to a university announcement.

A video of the experiment released on the lab team's website shows Rao observing a cannon-firing video game while wearing an electrical brain-signal reading cap. By imagining his right finger flicking during the game, he triggered the actual motion in Stocco, who sat in a distant lab, wearing a cap designed to send magnetic stimulation signals to his brain. In effect, Rao's thought was transferred across the campus, via the Internet, to trigger the motion in Stocco, who described it as feeling like an involuntary twitch, according to the announcement.

"The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains," Stocco said, in a statement. "We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain."

The announcement follows a rapid series of advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces, devices that read brain signals and typically try to translate them into motions in robotic prosthetic arms or legs. Researchers at Duke University and Harvard have demonstrated the transfer of brain signals between rats, and from a person to a rat, as well. So-called "transcranial magnetic stimulation," which sends magnetic pulses to the brain, has become a treatment for neurological ailments such as Parkinson's disease.

"It's pretty wild, but it's real," says university spokeswoman Michelle Ma, about the human brain-to-brain result. The researchers plan to publish the result in a scientific journal, Ma says, but wanted to establish the priority of their claim in a fast-moving field by making the announcement now.

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