Mind control – closer than we thought

Ever wanted to be a surgeon but were put off by the 10 years of study that go into it? The development of some curious mind-melding technology at the University of Washington might one day allow you to jump right in there behind the scalpel. There’s just a tiny drawback – you’d have to let a trained surgeon take over your brain.

Rajesh Rao, a professor at the University of Washington, recently performed an experiment where his thoughts controlled the movement of a colleague’s body across the other side of the university. Professor Rao watched a computer screen that displayed a game requiring only the press of a spacebar to advance, but instead of being at the controls, he was hooked up to a brain-recording device. Each time Rao thought of moving his right hand, his brain signals were recorded and transmitted across campus where a device called a TMS machine used magnetic pulses to stimulate his colleagues brain, causing the press of a spacebar.


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While Rao probably didn’t rack up a high score on this attempt, the technology sounds really exciting. If tuned more finely, the applications are immense. The receiver in this experiment – Andrea Stocco – mentioned the idea of installing this kind of technology on planes just in case the pilot becomes unable to fly, but even more mundane things could benefit from this. You could be a hospital translator by proxy – hooking up to the French translator for one patient, the Mandarin translator for the next. IT technicians could even tap into your brain and (for the fifth time damn it!) get you to fix your computer yourself.

It sounds really exciting, but you’re probably wondering what the downsides are. The experiment Rao and Stocco performed wasn’t quite as easy as a Vulcan mind-meld and in fact was very lucky to succeed – it was performed in a very controlled environment with highly specialized machines. This kind of constraint luckily means it certainly couldn’t have been forced on the receiver (if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear the collective sighs of a legion of sci-fi writers). Perhaps the biggest downside though is that the technology is quite a while away from actually being put into practice – it’s still in the very early stages. It’s certainly a space to watch.

What would you think about allowing someone to temporarily take control of your brain? Too close for comfort or potentially life-saving?

6 Responses to “Mind control – closer than we thought”

  1. Matt Megens says:

    Just your actions I believe. It’s a bit like a reflex – this machine stimulates the right area of the brain to make you perform a motion without conscious input. Interesting point though, I wonder if as we understand more about how thought occurs in the brain this technology might be adapted to it. Very Orwellian.

  2. Wendy White says:

    Does it control your thoughts or your actions?

  3. Kamilla Naves says:

    Definitely creepy.I just can imagine the political outcomes or consumption issues that would arise if this kind of technology was used without control or regulation.

  4. canewton says:

    I agree, very creepy. And there must be all sorts of ethical issues involved with being able to control someones mind.
    It does sound like it could be a good idea in special circumstances, like you mentioned with the pilot.

  5. Matt Megens says:

    I hear that this technology is closer than you might think
    Computers controlling humans is creepy indeed.

  6. Travis says:

    That is just a little bit creepy. The next step would be to map the signals required to play the game and connect the computer directly to the receiver but computers controlling humans is very creepy.