Get ready for the "Internet of Brains"

As if we didn’t already have enough to worry about. What would you think about the possibility of direct “brain to brain” communication between human beings? No, I’m not talking about telepathy. (At least not yet…) But scientists have been working on a way to “network” the brains of both lab animals and human beings together to form a sort of Internet of Brains using electroencephalograph sensors. That may sound like something from far in the future, but according to a recent report in Scientific American, they’ve actually gotten it to work.

The new paper addressed some of these questions by linking together the brain activity of a small network of humans. Three individuals sitting in separate rooms collaborated to correctly orient a block so that it could fill a gap between other blocks in a video game. Two individuals who acted as “senders” could see the gap and knew whether the block needed to be rotated to fit. The third individual, who served as the “receiver,” was blinded to the correct answer and needed to rely on the instructions sent by the senders.

The two senders were equipped with electroencephalographs (EEGs) that recorded their brain’s electrical activity. Senders were able to see the orientation of the block and decide whether to signal the receiver to rotate it. They focused on a light flashing at a high frequency to convey the instruction to rotate or focused on one flashing at a low frequency to signal not to do so. The differences in the flashing frequencies caused disparate brain responses in the senders, which were captured by the EEGs and sent, via computer interface, to the receiver.

First, they wired the brains of some rats together. The animals “learned to synchronize the electrical activity of their nerve cells to the same extent as those in a single brain,” and wound up outperforming individual animals in lab testing by a significant amount. Later, they wired the brains of three humans similarly in the test described in the excerpt above. And they allegedly were able to work collectively like three computer processors in a network.

Is anyone else getting a little nervous? The scientists involved are talking about things like “a biological supercomputer of networked human brains” capable of working at vastly greater speeds and across language barriers. But as the researchers themselves acknowledge, this begins to raise disturbing questions of the true meaning of “self” and where one person’s consciousness ends and the next begins.

This sounds like a pathway that leads to yet another dystopian future of cyborg humans, slowly using technology to push us further and further away from our fundamental humanity. Melding everyone into some sort of hive-mind collective probably sounds great from a communist leaning perspective. After all, somebody will have to oversee all of this mashed up supercomputer power, right? And when everyone knows what everyone else is thinking – particularly the government – there won’t be any secrets. Or any privacy. And thought crimes would become a very real thing before you knew it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love science. Well… a lot of it anyway. But some of this stuff sounds incredibly dangerous. And I, for one, don’t want to be part of an internet of brains, assuming anyone would actually want to be tied into mine.

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