The Brain telegraph

The New York Times blog has an interesting post about brain-to-brain and brain-to-computer interfaces. The concept is that we could eventually pass signals from our brain directly to a computer and from there to another brain. (Interestingly, this was a premise in the movie “Pacific Rim” which I saw last night.) The article says…

Writing to the brain could allow us to interact with our computers, or other human beings, just by thinking about it.

In February, Dr. Miguel A. Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University successfully connected the brains of two rats over the Internet, allowing them to communicate with their minds so when one rat pressed a lever, the other one did the same. The rats were in different locations, one at Duke University, in North Carolina, and another in a laboratory in Natal, Brazil.

Dr. Nicolelis said he has recently performed other experiments in his lab where he has connected the brains of four mice in what he calls a “brain net” allowing them to share information over the Internet. In another experiment, he took two monkeys and gave them both half of a piece of information to successfully move a robotic arm, which required them to share the information through their brain.

Last week scientists at Harvard Medical School created a brain-to-brain interface that enables a human to move a rat’s tail just by thinking about it.

A couple years ago I read a book by Nicolelis and he makes a strong case that a lot of science fiction ideas could become reality.

This is a very interesting section of the article:

In 2011, scientists working in collaboration with Boston University and A.T.R. Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, published a paper on a process called Decoded Neurofeedback, or “DecNef,” which sends signals to the brain through a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, or FMRI, that can alter a person’s brain activity pattern. In time, these scientists believe they could teach people how to play a musical instrument while they sleep, learn a new language or master a sport, all by “uploading” information to the brain.

If we presume (correctly, I think, though it’s hard to verify) that a person’s brain changes in a predictable way after learning to play a song, and that we can notate those changes, then, in theory, we should be able to affect those changes in someone else’s brain (via some kind of electrical or magnetic stimulation?) and teach them the song. However, it’s not that simple since no two brains are exactly the same. It’s possible that enacting brain changes to teach a person how to play “Greensleeves” could instead turn them into a cannibalistic killer with lasers for eyes.

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