Team of researchers from the University of Washington has developed a method which allows three people to play a game via telepathic ways of communication.
Using a brain-to-brain interface, participants can play a Tetris-like game in BrainNet. The title does justice to the game’s function. Firstly, it works via a brain-to-brain network of more than two people; secondly, players can both receive and send information by using only their brain.
“Humans are social beings who communicate with each other to cooperate and solve problems that none of us can solve on our own,” according to one of the lead authors, Rajesh Rao. “We wanted to know if a group of people could collaborate using only their brains. That’s how we came up with the idea of BrainNet: where two people help a third person solve a task,” he added.
BrainNet similar to the game Tetris shows a block at the top of the screen, which needs to be completed at the bottom. As per the game rules, two players, known as the senders can see both the block and the line, but they can’t control the game. On the other hand, the receiver, can only see the block, but the receiver can tell the game, whether to rotate or pass the information, alone from their brain, then through the internet and again to the brain of the receiver. The receiver then processes the information and sends the command- either to rotate or to not rotate the block. The receiver also communicates with the game directly from the brain.
For the experiment, five groups of participants were asked to play 16 rounds of the game. Within each group, all three players were placed in different rooms. They couldn’t speak, hear or see each other. The senders could see the game on the screen, the screen also showed the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ on each side of the screen. Below the ‘Yes’ option, an LED flashed 17 times per second, in contrast, it flashed 15 times beneath the ‘No’ option.
The yes or no option are used to instruct whether to rotate or to not rotate the block. This command they conveyed to the receiver’s brain by concentrating on the corresponding light. Moreover, the senders and the receiver wore electroencephalography caps, which were also capable of picking up electrical activities in their brain. According to the experts, the different types of flashing patterns triggered unique types of activity of the brain, which the caps could comprehend. Hence, the caps easily picked up on the signals, when the senders stared at the light for the signal.
“To deliver the message to the Receiver, we used a cable that ends with a wand that looks like a tiny racket behind the Receiver’s head. This coil stimulates the part of the brain that translates signals from the eyes,” commented author Andrea Stocco. “We essentially ‘trick’ the neurons in the back of the brain to spread around the message that they have received signals from the eyes. Then participants have the sensation that bright arcs or objects suddenly appear in front of their eyes.”
The receiver would see a bright flash if the answer was ‘Yes, rotate the block’. On the other hand, the receiver wouldn’t see anything if the answer was ‘No’. Moreover, the receiver got input from two senders of the game, before it could make a decision on whether to rotate the block or not.
The test results showed that on an average, every group could successfully clear the line 13 times out of 16 trials, or 81% of the time. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the team hopes that their study has lain groundwork for the futuristic study of the brain-to-brain interface, which will help one brain to solve a complicated problem when the other cannot.
“But for now, this is just a baby step. Our equipment is still expensive and very bulky and the task is a game,” Rao commented. “We’re in the ‘Kitty Hawk’ days of brain interface technologies: We’re just getting off the ground.”