BrainNet System
© ARXIV:1809.08632 [CS.HC]
A graphic showing the architecture of the BrainNet system.
For the first time in history multi-person brain-to-brain communication has not only been proven, but quantified in a clinical setting. A team of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington published their findings in the "pre-print server" arXiv owned by Cornell University, which means it has been published after moderation but not yet approved for a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The experiment itself involved three subjects: two "Senders" and one "Receiver." The Senders wore electrodes that would record the electrical impulses of their brains using electroencephalography (EEG) technology (the same technology used to diagnose, say, sleep apnea).

The Receiver was outfitted with their own set of electrodes to receive and interpret these electrical signals using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a technology that employs magnets to stimulate the targeted areas of the brain. It's used to evaluate brain damage following strokes and is a burgeoning therapy for treatment-resistant depression.

The crux of the experiment centered on a Tetris-like game (we know: scientists have all the fun). Falling blocks were displayed on a screen, with the objective being to rotate the blocks so they landed in a way that would create a solid line at the bottom of the screen.

Sebastian Reul
© MICHAEL BUHOLZER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Sebastian Reul of Germany competes during the brain-computer interface race on October 8, 2016 in Kloten, Zurich at the Cybathlon Championship, the first edition of an international competition organised by ETH Zurich for physically impaired athletes using bionic assistive technology, such as robotic prostheses, brain-computer interfaces and powered exoskeletons.
The Senders could see the falling blocks, but could not control them. Conversely, the Receiver could control the falling blocks, but could not see them. For the Senders, two flashing lights were set up on either side of their screens: one for the decision to "rotate," and one for the decision "do not rotate."

By looking at the appropriate flashing light, the Senders' EEGs were sent to the Receiver. If the decision was "rotate," the EEGs triggered the Receiver's brain to create a phosphene - which is the hallucination of seeing a light flash where there isn't any. (You can see your own phosphenes when you rub your eyes or stand up too quickly.)

The results were astounding: a recorded average accuracy of 81.25% across five separate groups of subjects. Even when scientists altered one Sender's reliability by adding noise to their EEG signal, the Receiver was able to learn which Sender was more reliable and adjust accordingly.

The experiment is scalable, too. Researchers plan to repeat the study with additional participants, as well as expanding the amount of data they must share using nothing more than their brains' electrical impulses.

The implications stretch far beyond telepathic party tricks and Tetris. According to Newsweek, the writers go so far as to speculate "One could imagine 'social networks' of connected brains in the future producing innovative and creative solutions to humanity's most important scientific and societal problems, all within a socially and ethically responsible framework."

We may very well be on the cusp of crowdsourcing our human brainpower.