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Brain-to-Brain Interface—the Next Great Leap in Human Communication
Mark Zuckerberg recently reiterated that brain-to-brain interfacing is our species future. Today, scientists can have participants move things on a screen with their mind and signal to one another across vast distances. It may someday have therapeutic uses for ADHD, give us sense experiences not akin to our species, and even allow advertisers to invade our minds.
100,000 viewers recently tuned in to see Mark Zuckerberg and Jerry Seinfeld chew the fat on the first ever Q&A session on Facebook Live. At one point, Zuckerberg reiterated that the future of the internet and consequently humanity, lie in technology that gives us telepathic powers. In his view, we would be able to record our own experiences in real time, and share thoughts and feelings directly with friends and loved ones. He called it the “future of communication.” So how close are we to brain-to-brain interfacing?
Previous research in harnessing brain waves sound like pages out of a science fiction novel. Consider a monkey who could control a computer with its thoughts, and one human telepathically controlling the movements of another. Other experiments used “organic computers” with the brains of several chimps or rats all linked together.
Neuroscientists at the University of Washington, Seattle recently announced electronically-assisted telepathy. In this experiment, two colleagues sat a mile apart using only the internet relaying their brainwaves. They played a game of 20 questions. This was made possible by the work of Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian researchers at Duke University. In the late 90’s he began experimenting with the brain’s electrical output, painstakingly checking each individual neuron. He and colleagues soon discovered which neurons did what. For instance, 48 specific neurons fire simultaneously to allow a rat to move. When they turned to monkeys, Nicolelis and his team were able to identify 100 neurons firing in unison. What they did next was astounding.
They connected a probe to a monkey’s brain, and had it move a dot around a screen with a joystick. When it got the dot in the center, it would receive a reward, some juice. By observing this movement, neuroscientists could recognize brain patterns. Now the joystick was taken away, the monkey was hooked up to another device, and soon it could move the dot around with its thoughts, just by picturing it in its head. This was the first experiment of its kind, the first time a primate moved something with its thoughts alone.
Model of the experiment.
The breakthrough inspired neuroscientists to begin what is known today as brain-to-brain interfacing (BBI). So far, results in humans have been limited. This is also due mostly to ethical rules which disallow the connecting of probes in the brains of living humans. Still, Chantel Prat and Andrea Stocco at the University of Washington rose to the challenge. First, they wanted to see if they could send a signal from one brain that would initiate a physical response in another.
They recruited two researchers who were positioned in different rooms across campus. Each was fitted with an electroencephalography (EEG) cap which measures brainwaves. One colleague in one room started playing a video game with his mind. To shoot in the game, he would simply imagine pressing the fire button. Another researcher was given noise-cancelling headphones. His head was fitted with a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil. This device emits focused electrical signals. It was placed on the part of the brain that controls one’s finger. When the first researcher fired with his brain, the second one’s finger would pull the trigger. One man was controlling the other.
One problem with the telepathy model according to Prat, is that the person receiving telepathic signals can’t tell whether it is coming from their own brain or that of another. “Whatever shape (future brain-to-brain communication) takes is going to be very different than listening to someone's thoughts in your head," he said. Still, this research is already bearing fruit.
Brain to brain interface model (BBI).
Nicolelis’s work has led to brain-to-machine interfaces. Today, the paralyzed are able to walk using brain signals sent to robotic prosthetics, and can even regain their sense of touch. Meanwhile, Prat thinks there may be applications for learning. You could tell when someone was focusing in class for instance, while another was daydreaming, using advanced EEG models. You could also hook up the brain of an ADHD student to that of someone who doesn’t have it, to see if you could in this way ease the symptoms of the condition. This is theoretical of course. Another proposed possibility is hooking up human brains to those of animals, and being able to experience sensations not relative to our species, like a dog’s sense of smell, or a dolphin’s sonar.
Though Prat doesn’t believe downloading and broadcasting thoughts is possible, others are not so sure. One Harvard study had one person in India wearing an EEG/TMS setup linked to another through the internet in France. The participant in India thought the words “ciao” and “hola” which were emailed to and picked up by the other. These signals were perceived as flashes of light which could be deciphered into words. Adding onto this, University of Washington Researchers decided to play a game of 20 questions.
Here, two people were connected via computer. One wore an EEG cap and the other a TMS coil. The TMS wearer was shown a picture of an animal on the computer screen, say a shark. Then they would be asked a question like, “Can it fly?” The EEG wearer would think the word “yes” or “no.” These thoughts traveled to the other over the internet. The TMS wearer would see a phosphene or flash of light in their eyes if the answer was yes, signaling that they were on the right track. This team scored a 72% accuracy rate, compared to the 18% accuracy of the control group. So what’s the takeaway? Brain-to-brain communication may be possible. But flashes of light are a far cry from sending speech or images to someone else’s head.
What human computer interface actually looks like. It is BBI when someone’s on the other end.
And say we do get there. Then what? Will advertisers be able to infiltrate (defile?) the last sacred space, that which lies between our ears? And what will be the result? Would we become more empathetic to the suffering of others, or more tolerant of it, having glutted on others intense emotions so often as to become desensitized to it?
Perhaps the intensity would even lead to a new form of addiction. If internet porn is killing productivity and affecting human relationships, imagine being inside the head of someone having an orgasm, or a whole crowd of them, without being present in the physical sense. A string of such experiences on a daily basis could have a generation forego the hardship of getting an education or working, and the difficulty of real human relationships, for that which is easy, yet intensely satisfying. Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that sometimes we wish our partner could read our thoughts. But commercializing on such technology is another matter entirely.
To learn more about electronically assisted psychic abilities click here:
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.