Mind control over computers becomes a reality
A machine that allows people to play computer games using just the power of their thoughts could open up the world for locked-in syndrome sufferers, scientists claim.
The device has enabled people to move a cursor around a screen and also fade and brighten images using just their brain.
The instructions are enough to play a simple computer game and could eventually allow brain damaged individuals to communicate with the outside world.
The team at the University of California and California Institute of Technology recruited 12 epilepsy patients who because of their illness had sensors embedded into their brain to monitor nerve activity.
They then set about training the volunteers to "exert conscious control" on individual nerve endings or neurons within the brain so that they could be switched on and off using just their thoughts.
By picking up these "thoughts" using the sensors they could be converted into commands for a computer screen.
Professor Christof Koch, of the California Institute of Technology, said that the study showed "individuals can rapidly, consciously, and voluntarily control neurons deep inside their head."
The team, that included Moran Cerf, a PHD student, looked at the medial temporal lobe—a region on the left hand side of the brain that plays a major role in human memory and emotion.
Prior to recording the activity, the volunteers were interviewed to find their interests and 100 images created around them.
These were then tested to find the four that showed the strongest correlation response in the brain.
These could then be used to control the movement of a cursor or to fade in and out different images.
They also made the participants think of one image, while looking at another to see how the thoughts in the brain competed.
They found that people were able to exhibit conscious control over their unconscious thoughts.
"The patients clearly found this task to be incredibly fun as they started to feel that they control things in the environment purely with their thought," said Mr Cerf.
"They were highly enthusiastic to try new things and see the boundaries of 'thoughts' that still allow them to activate things in the environment."
The work is published in Nature.