As curious as the above studies are, perhaps none of them come as close to the realm of science fiction as mind control—one of the most explored “what ifs” in many movies andbooks. While true mind control isn’t exactly on the horizon, a few recent studies have yielded some pretty extraordinary results.
In a Harvard Medical School study, humans were able to directly control movements of a rat’s tailusing thoughts alone. Human subjects were fitted with a BCI device that converted their thoughts into computer commands. The rats, in turn, were outfitted with a computer-to-brain interface that used focused ultrasound to stimulate their brains.
As a result, a brain-to-brain connection opened between the humans and the rats, allowing humans to remotely control the rats’ tails at will. The study had an astonishing94 percent success rate, across six different humans and six different rats. Notably, the established brain-to-brain connection was entirely noninvasive, requiring no complex surgical procedures.
If you think that’s impressive, wait until we tell you about a recent study at the University of Washington. This study used similar brain-to-brain communication, with one noteworthy difference:Both subjects were human.
Two researchers were located in different parts of the university’s campus. One wore a cap that converted his thoughts into electrical signals, while his colleague wore one that allowed his brain to receive magnetic signals. The first researcher had to play a computer game that had him firing a cannon at different targets. The catch? He had to do so without using his hands. Instead, he had to imagine firing the cannon in his mind, therebymaking his colleaguedo the actual key-pressing at the right moment.
The study was a success. While researchers are quick to highlight that this experiment is quite basic in its setup, they believe it is a first cautious step toward more elaborate applications. Some years down the line we may see numerous social uses for such direct mind control. These may include everything from letting people with disabilities communicate better, to remotely helping somebody land an aircraft.
For now, that’s speculation. Yet one thingiscertain: Neuroscience is an increasingly exciting research area that surely has more futuristic developments in store for us.