Mind-reading a step closer as scientists connect rats' brains
The prospect of mind-reading technology has moved a step closer after scientists established the first brain-to-brain connection.
Using electrodes implanted in the brains of two rats, one rodent was able to pass information to another in a cage thousands of miles away – albeit without knowing it was doing so. The experiment, by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, USA, is the first direct communication link between two minds.
Previous studies had shown that visual and tactile information could be transferred between a brain and a computer, for example allowing amputees to control prosthetic limbs, but the latest research represents a significant advance.
Although the connection was basic, it raises the prospect of more complex devices that could one day allow people to read each other's minds.
Prof Miguel Nicolelis, who led the study, said: "These experiments showed that we have established a sophisticated, direct communication linkage between brains. Basically, we are creating what I call an organic computer."
Writing in the journal 'Scientific Reports', researchers described how rats had been trained to press one of two levers in their cage when a light went on above it.
An array of electrodes one hundredth the width of a human hair was implanted on to a region of their brains that governed movement.
The rats were then put in separate cages, only one of which had lights above the levers. When the "encoder" rat in this cage pressed the lever, an electrical version of its brain activity was transmitted to the "receiver" rat. Seventy per cent of the time – significantly above the level of chance – the "receiver" rats pressed the correct lever despite having no light to guide them, demonstrating that they were being guided by information from the first rat's brain.
The connection worked even when one rat was in a cage in North Carolina and another was in a laboratory in Brazil.
The encoder rat received a smaller reward if the decoder made the wrong decision. This established a two-way link between the rats, as the first began to make faster, clearer decisions that led to better rewards for both.
Prof Nicolelis said: "When the decoder rat committed an error, the encoder changed both its brain function and behaviour to make it easier for its partner to get it right."
His team now intends to connect several animals' brains at once, allowing them to work together on more complicated types of problem-solving.
"We cannot even predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a 'brain-net'. You could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve," said Prof Nicolelis.
Christopher James, professor of healthcare technology at the University of Warwick said it "takes us a step closer" to mind-reading technology. (© Daily Telegraph, London)