In the future, as anyone who has seen just about any sci-fi blockbuster knows, we will all communicate with our computers and with each other simply through the power of thought. The first half of this is already close at hand: Gadgets that let people control computers via their thoughts are relatively old news and perhaps approaching commercial viability. And now scientists have pulled off an early version of person-to-person thought communication as well.
The study had four participants, aged between 28 and 50. One participant was assigned to the brain-computer interface to transmit the thought, while the other three were assigned to the computer-brain interface to receive the thought.
At the BCI end, the words “Ciao” and “Hola” were translated into binary. This was then shown to the emitter subject, who was instructed to envision actions for each piece of information: moving their hands for a 1 or their feet for a 0. An EEG then captured the electrical information in the sender’s brain as they thought of these actions, which resulted in a sort of neural code for the binary symbols – which in turn was code for the words.
This information was then sent to the three recipient subjects via TMS headsets, stimulating the visual cortex so that the recipient, with ears and eyes covered, saw the binary string as a series of bright lights in their peripheral vision: if the light appeared in one location, it was a 1, and the second location denoted a 0. This information was received successfully and decoded as the transmitted words.
So no, given the use of gesture-imagining and binary code and hallucinogenic lights, this technology isn’t yet at the level of thinking I want a pizza and having one show up at your door in a half-hour. But this was a pretty important proof of concept, and things are only going to get smoother from here. We can’t wait until the day when every insufferable pundit is inundating circa-2050 Twitter with their truly unfiltered thoughts.