University of Washington researchers created a method for two people help a third person solve a task using only their minds. Heather Wessel, a recent UW graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology (left), and Savannah Cassis, a UW undergraduate in psychology (right) sent information about a Tetris-like game from their brains over the internet to UW psychology graduate student Theodros Haile’s brain. Haile could then manipulate the game with his mind.Mark Stone/University of Washington
Telepathic communication might be one step closer to reality thanks to new research from the University of Washington. A team created a method that allows three people to work together to solve a problem using only their minds.
In BrainNet, three people play a Tetris-like game using a brain-to-brain interface. This is the first demonstration of two things: a brain-to-brain network of more than two people, and a person being able to both receive and send information to others using only their brain. The team published its results April 16 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, though this research previously attracted media attention after the researchers posted it September to the preprint site arXiv.
“Humans are social beings who communicate with each other to cooperate and solve problems that none of us can solve on our own,” said corresponding author Rajesh Rao, the CJ and Elizabeth Hwang professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and a co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. “We wanted to know if a group of people could collaborate using only their brains. That’s how we came up with the idea of BrainNet: where two people help a third person solve a task.”
As in Tetris, the game shows a block at the top of the screen and a line that needs to be completed at the bottom. Two people, the Senders, can see both the block and the line but can’t control the game. The third person, the Receiver, can see only the block but can tell the game whether to rotate the block to successfully complete the line. Each Sender decides whether the block needs to be rotated and then passes that information from their brain, through the internet and to the brain of the Receiver. Then the Receiver processes that information and sends a command — to rotate or not rotate the block — to the game directly from their brain, hopefully completing and clearing the line.
The team asked five groups of participants to play 16 rounds of the game. For each group, all three participants were in different rooms and couldn’t see, hear or speak to one another.
The Senders each could see the game displayed on a computer screen. The screen also showed the word “Yes” on one side and the word “No” on the other side. Beneath the “Yes” option, an LED flashed 17 times per second. Beneath the “No” option, an LED flashed 15 times a second.
“Once the Sender makes a decision about whether to rotate the block, they send ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the Receiver’s brain by concentrating on the corresponding light,” said first author Linxing Preston Jiang, a student in the Allen School’s combined bachelor’s/master’s degree program.
The Senders wore electroencephalography caps that picked up electrical activity in their brains. The lights’ different flashing patterns trigger unique types of activity in the brain, which the caps can pick up. So, as the Senders stared at the light for their corresponding selection, the cap picked up those signals, and the computer provided real-time feedback by displaying a cursor on the screen that moved toward their desired choice. The selections were then translated into a “Yes” or “No” answer that could be sent over the internet to the Receiver.
Want to learn and participate in actual exercises of telepathic communication? Come to the upcoming Super-Human Training 4. This is a repeat of the May 18th Class.