WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
We already have the technology to communicate with people and machines telepathically, but it’s basic and slow, now money’s coming in to improve it.
Over the past few years there have been numerous sci-fi like breakthroughs in helping ALS patients use Brain Machine Interface (BMI) technology to communicate with loved ones, help paralysed people control fleets of F-35 fighter jets with their minds, live stream thoughts to YouTube, and upload knowledge into people’s minds Matrix style. And as amazing as all those breakthroughs are they almost pale into insignificance when you realise that BMI’s are also being used to help people train robots, play games, and communicate with one another telepathically, and could one day be used to let cyber security researchers telepathically roam their networks. Is your brain fried yet? Good, then let’s get on with the article, and then you can watch the video to see how one day this technology could replace the ubiquitous smartphone by helping telepathically beam content into your brain and bypass your eyes …
Now, in another breakthrough wireless communication directly between human brains, in other words Brain to Brain telepathic communication, is one step closer to reality thanks to a $8 million US Department of Defense grant for a team of neuro-engineers at Rice University.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, which funded the team’s proof-of-principle research toward a wireless brain link in 2018, has now asked for a preclinical demonstration of the technology that could set the stage for human tests as early as 2022.
“We started this in a very exploratory phase,” said Rice’s Jacob Robinson, lead investigator on the MOANA Project, which ultimately hopes to create a dual-function, wireless headset capable of both “reading” and “writing” brain activity to help restore lost sensory function, all without the need for invasive surgery.
See how the tech works and what it can do
MOANA, which is short for “Magnetic, Optical and Acoustic Neural Access,” will use light to decode neural activity in one brain and magnetic fields to encode that activity in another brain, all in less than one-twentieth of a second.
“We spent the last year trying to see if the physics works, if we could actually transmit enough information through a skull to detect and stimulate activity in brain cells grown in a dish,” said Robinson, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and core faculty member of the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative.
“What we’ve shown is that there is promise,” he said. “With the little bit of light that we are able to collect through the skull, we were able to reconstruct the activity of cells that were grown in the lab. Similarly, we showed we could stimulate lab-grown cells in a very precise way with magnetic fields and magnetic nanoparticles.”
Robinson, who’s orchestrating the efforts of 16 research groups from four states, said the second round of DARPA funding will allow the team to “develop this further into a system and to demonstrate that this system can work in a real brain, beginning with rodents.”
If the demonstrations are successful, he said the team could begin working with human patients within two years.
“Most immediately, we’re thinking about ways we can help patients who are blind,” Robinson said. “In individuals who have lost the ability to see, scientists have shown that stimulating parts of the brain associated with vision can give those patients a sense of vision, even though their eyes no longer work.”
The MOANA team includes 15 co-investigators from Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, Duke University, Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale’s John B. Pierce Laboratory.
The project is funded through DARPA’s Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program.