It's not true mental telepathy -- not yet, anyway -- but an international group of researchers is reporting they've successfully transmitted information in a brain-to-brain link between two humans.
Scientists from the U.S., France and Spain say they leveraged several technologies, including computers and the Internet, to send information between test subjects in India and France, separated by 5,000 miles, without carrying out any invasive procedures on the subjects.
"We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways," says study co-author Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a Harvard Medical School neurology professor.
By utilizing an electroencephalogram connected to the Internet and transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which electromagnetic induction is used to externally stimulate a brain, it proved possible to communicate information from one human brain to another, the researchers report.
Electrodes were attached to the scalp of one of the subjects, to detect the electrical signal created in the brain while the subject concentrated on a particular word.
That signal was then transmitted over the Internet to three distant subjects intended as recipients, with a similar computer-brain interfaces attached.
The recipients were able to determine the word the originating subject was thinking of, the researchers say, strictly through the interface with no additional sensory clues about the intended communication.
This experiment suggests the possibility of supplementing or bypassing the traditional methods of language-based or motor-based communication, and could have a number of applications, they say.
One example, they noted, would be using such technology to allow communication with patients who've suffered a stroke.
"We anticipate that computers in the not-so-distant future will interact directly with the human brain in a fluent manner, supporting both computer- and brain-to-brain communication routinely," the researchers say.
This means an individual might someday communicate with someone without the need to vocalize speech or verbally express an emotion, they suggest.
As with any technology, there will be moral and ethical issues to be addressed, they acknowledge.
"The widespread use of human brain-to-brain technologically mediated communication will create novel possibilities for human interrelation with broad social implications that will require new ethical and legislative responses," they say.
In the study, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, collaborated with scientists from Starlab Barcelona in Spain and Axilum Robotics in Strasbourg, France.