Scientific breakthrough in ’mind-melding’

IT MIGHT seem like a far-fetched science fiction concept more than reality, but scientists have made a breakthrough in brain-networking.

As the name suggests, the method involves linking brains together to create a collective network of thought.

Director of the Centre for Neuroengineering at Duke University Miguel A. Nicolelis has spent over two decades attempting to make this dream a reality.

For the past 25 years, Nicolelis and his colleagues have been deciphering signals recorded by electrodes implanted in brains by using devices of their own design.

And now they have had a breakthrough by wiring animals brains so they can collaborate on simple tasks.

“This is the first demonstration of a shared brain-machine interface (BMI), a paradigm that has been translated successfully over the past decades from studies in animals all the way to clinical applications,” he told Sci-News.

“We foresee that shared BMIs will follow the same track, and could soon be translated to clinical practice.”

For the purpose of the study four rats had the same signal delivered into their brains and when a computer monitor showed their thoughts were synchronised they were offered a sip of water as reward.

After a series of tests it was discovered the scientists were able to manipulate the brain patterns of the rats so they shared a collective thought pattern 87 per cent of the time.

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Even more impressively, the scientists were able to successfully manipulate the minds of three rats to act as an information-processing chain.

This meant they were able to train the first rat to produce a certain type of brain activity and pass this onto the second rat that in turn passed it onto the third.

After successfully combining the mind of rats, the researchers shifted their focus to monkeys.

For the study, two monkeys were shown a screen with images of an arm and a ball and by delivering the same brain signals they were able to work together to move the arm to the ball.

While not being directly involved in the study, Rajesh P.N. Rao, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington said the findings were impressive.

“What’s different here is that he’s able to demonstrate that more than a pair of brains can be yoked together,” he told New York Times.

“One can imagine that these experiments are paving the way for people to solve problems by literally putting our heads together.”

Director of the Neuroethics Program at the Centre for Ethics at Emory University Karen S. Rommelfanger said she was also impressed with the discovery, although worried it would create a number of privacy and legal issues.

“It’s really important to address these issues before they come up, because when you try to play catch-up, it can take a decade before something’s in place,” she said.


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