I’ve talked previously about brain-computer interfaces and how we could use them to replace the current way of accessing the Internet – discovering new information with a simple thought. But, what if this technology could link two individuals. Thus, sharing consciousness by sending their brain’s electrical impulses between one another.
Connecting Brains via the Internet
The human mind is an extremely complex operating system, especially when you get down to the nitty-gritty of decoding thoughts and intentions.
Which is why researchers at the University of Washington started with one of the more simple processes (muscle movement), testing how they could communicate this behavior between two people. They describe the result below:
“[Rajesh] Rao looked at a computer screen and played a simple video game with his mind. When he was supposed to fire a cannon at a target, he imagined moving his right hand (being careful not to actually move his hand), causing a cursor to hit the “fire” button. Almost instantaneously, [Andrea] Stocco, who wore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn’t looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the spacebar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon. Stocco compared the feeling of his hand moving involuntarily to that of a nervous tic.”
How did they achieve this amazing feat?
On one side of campus, Rao wore a cap with electrodes hooked up to an EEG machine, which reads electrical activity in the brain. Across campus, Stocco wore a cap equipped with a TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) coil directly over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement.
Together, the brains worked in unison. One creating the impulse, while the other acted on the impulse.
We use the Internet to connect computers. But, this is an instance where the Internet connects brains. Is this a massive leap toward mind-control?
Far from it. A Duke University researcher was unimpressed with the experiment since there was no message. It was simply an electrical impulse, not information or thoughts.
However, let’s say that the research continues to advance beyond this basic experiment. How might this muscular control of someone else’s body be used?
Momentary Mind Control
A clear implication would be using this to help the physically disabled. Someone who is paralyzed from the neck down could potentially use this to communicate their wishes. Perhaps controlling the movements of a caretaker, so that nothing is lost in translation.
My mind initially thought about coaching sports. If you’ve ever had a good coach that teaches you certain movements and motions, you know that it usually just takes one perfect replication on your part to get the move down.
Golf lessons would be less about “here’s a video showing you what’s wrong with your swing”. And more about “here, I’ll take over your movements and let you feel what a perfect swing is”.
I, for one, would love if this could be applied to my swimming technique. When it comes to swimming laps, I just can’t figure out how to pace myself properly for long distances. I usually find myself cruising through a lap or two and coming up for big gulps of air. If a teacher could take over my body momentarily, granting me the feeling of what swimming laps should be, then I know that I’d catch on quickly.
From physical activity to arts and crafts, this momentary mind-muscle control could be great for learning.
Of course, the idea of being a mind slave to a puppet master obviously has its dark undertones. And in all the above examples and research that’s what’s happening since it’s a one-way communication stream.
But, the broader spectrum would be two-way communication. Essentially, telepathic communication between people (like Star Trek’s Vulcan mind meld). Or two-way communication between us and the Internet, replacing our action interfaces with cognitive interfaces.
Right now, most research is in very early stages. There’s ample opportunity for dreamers to have fun with these possibilities.
Fiction for Fun
If you’re like many adults, then you can look back at a general time when you stopped using your imagination. When you got serious and realistic about your thinking, probably adhering to a common way of thinking.
But, the imagination is a powerful tool no matter what stage in life or what profession you hold. You can regain those mystical powers from your childhood with a simple “what if” scenario. From “what if”, you’ll find the effects begin falling into place chain-reaction style.
Guillermo Arriaga, the screenwriter of the movie 21 Grams, had the idea for his movie driving home, late for dinner as usual. He thought, “What if I went inside this time and told my wife I was late because I ran over a father and his two daughters.” Yes, this is a dark “what if” scenario. But, it turned into a phenomenal movie about the burden of death and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
If you find that your imagination powers are weak at the moment, then try thinking movie tangents for your favorite flicks.
I find myself thinking about “what if Sonny Corleone wasn’t murdered in The Godfather and he took the reigns as the Don instead of Michael?” The movie would turn into complete carnage.
As you build your imagination muscles back to your pre-teen levels, you’ll find how useful it is in other areas of your life besides just killing the time.
My imagination helps me come up with a lot of fresh ideas for my marketing consulting business. My friend Ryan tells me that he uses his imagination frequently in conversations, turning dull moments into funny jokes.
And it all comes back to “what if”.