|Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis and his team have released their research exploring brain-to-brain interfaces in remotely located rats. In their work, animals thousands of miles apart collaborated on simple tasks with their brains connected through the internet.|
In his book, Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines, Nicolelis's ground-breaking research with animals is detailed and explored.
In the brain-to-brain interface experiment Nicolelis' team attached an "encoder" rat in Brazil, that was trained in a specific behavioral task, pressing a lever in its cage it to earn a reward. A brain implant recorded activity from the rat's motor cortex and converted it into an electrical signal that was delivered via neural link to the brain implant of a second "decoder" rat.
The second rat's motor cortex processes the signal from rat number one and — despite being unfamiliar with the behavioral task the first rat has been conditioned to perform — uses that information to press the same lever.
"These experiments showed that we have established a sophisticated, direct communication linkage between brains," Nicolelis said in a statement. "Basically, we are creating what I call an organic computer."
The experiment, the results of which was recently published in Scientific Reports.
Nicolelis's work with animals has uncovered a new method for capturing brain function—by recording rich neuronal symphonies rather than the activity of single neurons. While this work may seem well in line with the ideas of the technological Singularity, Nicolelis believes that substrate independent minds are impossible and the brain itself is not computable.
Anders Sandberg, from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, said the work was "very important" in helping to understand how brains encode information.
The implications of the technology and its potential future uses are far broader, said Sandberg. "The main reason we are running the planet is that we are amazingly good at communicating and coordinating. Without that, although we are very smart animals, we would not dominate the planet."
"I don't think there's any risk of supersmart rats from this," he added. "There's a big difference between sharing sensory information and being able to plan. I'm not worried about an imminent invasion of 'rat multiborgs'."
Nicolelis' work is preliminary. The exact mechanisms controlling how human thoughts are encoded and how they might be transmitted into another person's brain remain unclear. Moreover, much of what is in our minds is what Sandberg calls a "draft" of what we might do. "Often, we don't want to reveal those drafts, that would be embarrassing and confusing. And a lot of those drafts are changed before we act. Most of the time I think we'd be very thankful not to be in someone else's head."