A newly developed interface has made the first technologically-assisted, inter-species telepathy possible — allowing humans to control the movements of rats with only their thoughts.
You may remember Bruce Willis' more attractive, neurologically-controlled doppelganger in the 2009 science-fiction action film, Surrogates. Or how about Sam Worthington's Na'vi-human hybrid in James Cameron's blockbuster, Avatar, from the same year? Both films explore the fascinating concept of physical telepathy — wherein a separate entity's actions can be controlled by the thoughts of another. Far-fetched? Not anymore.
In a medical journal published this month, radiologist, Seung-Schik Yoo of Harvard Medical School in Boston, has shown the world that it's possible to control the physical motions of a rat with nothing more than the brain activity of a human.
A relatively basic brain-to-brain connection was established by enabling the motor cortex portion of an anesthetized rat's brain to receive signals from a human volunteer who was wearing an EEG (electroencephalography) cap. An intermediary device capable of channeling focused ultrasonic pulses transmits the signals from human to rat.
The goal of the experiment was to move the rat's tail while the rat was asleep using only the thoughts of the volunteer. i09 reports that all six participants were successful at controlling the rat’s tail with an accuracy rate of 94 percent and with a time delay of 1.6 seconds from the moment of thought initiation to the tail movement.
Yoo claims that the straight-forward interface could one day be applied toward human-to-human connections. While the science and technology is still a few years out, the real-world applications of such an advancement are difficult to ignore. Using the interface, Yoo claims, paraplegics could one day share the connection with their physical therapist who could help them relearn basic limb movement by mentally moving their limbs for them.
As is usually the case with any new advances in science and technology, the development of inter-species telepathy has its naysayers. One of them, Ricardo Chavarriaga, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says it is not clear that the experiment realistically depicts what would happen if a conscious brain was stimulated using the same interface because the rat was anesthetized in the experiment in order to isolate the effects of the human intervention.
Back in 2003, Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, trained several macaque monkeys to manoeuvre a brain-controlled prosthetic arm with the same precision as their own hand. His goal was to assist sufferers of paralysis by bypassing brain lesions or damaged parts of the spine.
Just weeks ago, Nicolelis successfully established the first brain-to-brain connections between two rats by implanting an array of micro-electrodes in the rats' primary motor cortex after previously training the rodents to press one of two levers when an LED above that lever was illuminated.
There's no denying that Yoo's experiment is a leap in the right direction. The only question being asked by his scientific peers is whether or not the non-invasive electroencephalography method will hold up in more robust applications.