The Vulcan mind-meld, that longtime staple of science fiction, could be a few big steps closer to becoming a reality: researchers have enabled a real-time transfer of “behaviorally meaningful sensorimotor information” between the brains of two rats, according to a new paper published by Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports.
Researchers at Duke University, the Edmond and Lila Safra International Institute for Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil, and the Neoscience Research Institute at Beijing’s Peking University came up with a methodology whereby rats were implanted with sets of micro-electrodes in the brains (specifically, the primary motor cortex). These rats were then trained to perform certain tasks within a confined space, most notably hitting a switch in order to receive a water reward.
Some of the rats were trained as “encoders,” others as “decoders.” When an encoder rat performed a task, its brain signals were sent via an Internet connection to a decoder rat, which took that information and used it to make a correct decision about which lever to press for a reward. According to the researchers’ paper, the decoder rats were able to make the right decision a little more than 60 percent of the time, even when they had no information about the correct lever and depended entirely on BTBI (Brain-to-Brain Interface) from their study partner.
Researchers felt that the two rats acting in concert was evidence of a “complex system” created by melding their brains. “The present study demonstrates for the first time that tactile and motor information, extracted in real time from simultaneously recorded populations of cortical neurons from a rat’s brain, can be transmitted directly into another subject’s cortex through the utilization of a real-time BTBI,” the paper concluded. However, certain conditions needed to be present, including an encoder animal trained for a high level of performance in a very specific set of tasks.
If the research withstands further scrutiny, the possibilities for future development are endless, and perhaps a little frightening. Linking multiple brains together into a “net” could facilitate the exchange of information over long distances, but everybody reading this article is probably thinking: “mind control.” In the future, anything with cerebral matter, including the smallest rats, could become as powerful as Spock. And won’t that make for some interesting times?
Image: Scientific Reports