Mental telepathy may seem like a thing of sci-fi movies and distant futuristic novels, but we are closer than you may realize to being able to communicate via our thoughts alone. The first major breakthroughs in BCI technology allowed mice and monkeys to move prosthetic arms or computer mice cursors with their thoughts alone. Implanted neural chips have been used to teach monkeys to control the movements of robotic arms in other states, via the internet. Next, monkeys were able to feed themselves with a robotic arm in their room controlled only by their thoughts.
These same silicon chips as being studied for human use where they would function as neural prostheses. Much of the research with humans in the area of mental telepathy and BCIs is targeted at helping locked in coma patients, people with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and other disabled patients who experience trouble moving or communicating. Noninvasive electrodes have been used in conjunction with the “Aware Chair,” a wheel chair that can be guided by neural activity. Implanted electrodes help other patients communicate by moving a mouse cursor mentally to spell out their thoughts.
We may see the next major breakthrough in mental telepathy and BCI technology in the next 20 years. DARPA currently is working on the Silent Talk project which uses EEGs to scan brain waves and will ideally communicate nonvocal thoughts between soldiers on the battlefield. There are at least three commercial companies that sell BCI devices that allow consumers to play computer games using their thoughts alone rather than a joystick. There even remains the possibility that hackers may someday be able to access your private thoughts.
Erin Jo Richey
Erin is a recent transplant to Portland. While studying cognitive science in college, her research focused on aspects of human-information processing. Now she works in the area of online user experience, helping companies measure, test, and develop effective online marketing strategies and interfaces. She was also one of the first US customers to own the Epoc Emotiv BCI neuroheadset.