Telepathic communication is no longer exclusive to the Jedis: scientists successfully conducted one of the first instances of brain-to-brain communication on record, transmitting “hola” and “ciao” from one person in India to three people in France. Team members included Barcelona-based research institute Starlab, French firm Axilum Robotics, and Harvard Medical School, whose findings were published in PLOS One.
“We want to improve the ways people can communicate in the face of limitations—those who might not be able to speak or have sensory impairments,” said study co-author Alvaro Pascual-Leone, director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical Center. “Can we work around those limitations and communicate with another person or computer?”
The experiment proved it’s possible, indeed. The subjects didn’t speak, type, or look at each other throughout the exercise. Pascual-Leone said that while the technique still has a long way to go, this breakthrough serves as a proof of concept. “It’s still very, very early. [But] we can show that this is even possible with technology that’s available. It’s the difference between talking on the phone and Morse code. To get where you’re going, you need certain steps to be taken first.”
The process included turning letters into binary code, hand and feet movements conveying the code through electroencephalography sensors, transmitting it to email, and converting it into quick flashes through a transcranial magnetic stimulation system (attached to the blind-folded recipient’s head). The flashes would then be translated back into binary, and then finally to text. The one-word message took approximately 70 minutes to relay.
The ultimate goal is to remove the computer as a middleman and allow brain-to-brain communication between people. “We’re still a long way from that,” Pascual-Leone told Smithsonian magazine, “but in the end, I think it’s a pursuit worthy of the effort.”
For more on the history of telepathic communication studies and how it works, watch this video, courtesy of BrainCraft: