Is Emailing Your Brainwaves the Future of Communication?

Ack! brains!

Here's something you probably didn't expect in your inbox: Researchers have now developed a way to email brainwaves. A study published in PLOS One on Wednesday details how an international research team transmitted words from one person's brain to another by mapping electrical currents in the brain and the spine.

Scientists have been studying the possibilities of brain wave–sensing technology for a while. For example, some researchers recently used electroencephalography (EEG) headsets, which record electrical activity along the scalp, to give people mind control over objects like toy helicopters.

These and other EEG processes have typically involved a human brain and a computer exchanging information. Electrodes map electrical currents the brain emits when a person does something that is an action-thought, like consciously thinking about bending the knee. The computer then interprets that signal and diagrams it onto a mechanical output, like the toy helicopter.

But in the most recent study, researchers replaced the machine in that equation with a second brain, and adjusted the technology so that two humans could exchange messages telepathically.

Four participants were recruited, ages 28 to 50, for the study. First, researchers used EEG to translate greetings, such as hola and ciao, into code. This was sent from a participant in Thiruvananthapuram, India to Strasbourg, France. There, a computer interface translated the message from code to words and implanted them into the receiver's brain through light electrical stimulation. Participants didn't report feeling anything in the process, and only saw flickers of light in their peripheral vision—but they did hear the message. Researchers then conducted a similar experiment in which thoughts were successfully transmitted from two participants, one in Spain and one in France.

The results weren't perfect—in the second experiment, the error rate was 15 percent, 11 percent on the decoding end and 5 percent on the initial coding side—but it is remarkable progress. Previously, EEG communication had proven successful with rats, but not with humans. Brain-to-brain transmission is still a budding area of study, but this marks a huge step: It's the first time humans have been able to drop messages into another brain using a machine. Researchers believe that soon, computers will be able to engage with the human brains in a dialogue through both computer and brain-to-brain communication.

Developing brain-to-brain transmissions further will likely raise ethical and sociological questions in the future, such as who gets to transmit these messages and if what might happen if someone decides to dabble into the dystopian realm of mind control. Unless you can transmit something like "let's go eat burritos the size of our faces." Even the most traditional anti-transhumanists should be able to get down with that.