Alena Graedon in Guernica:
Scientists have been experimenting with brain-to-brain communication for some time; recent results, which have been remarkable, represent the culmination of a decade or so of research. In the past few years, brain-machine interfaces have been used on monkeys, rodents, and people, and in at least one case, on a human-rat dyad. By training his eyes on a flashing light, a volunteer could get a rat’s tail to move. Some of the most noteworthy innovations have come from a team led by Miguel Nicolelis at Duke. Members of the Nicolelis lab began by connecting pairs of rat brains. After the animals had been implanted with microelectrodes, the neural activity of a rat in a Brazilian lab could be transmitted via Internet to one in Durham, North Carolina. The second rat, upon receiving a brain signal from the first, would perform a task—pressing a lever that rewarded them both with water. These results, when presented three years ago, were seen by many as revolutionary.
But now the Nicolelis team has moved on, connecting several animals at once to establish larger “Brainets.” And their findings—published in a pair of Scientific Reports studies last summer—are even headier. They managed, for example, to get three monkeys to collaborate mentally to move a virtual arm through 3D space. Maybe still more impressive and unsettling, the researchers created a network of four interconnected rat brains, which was able to solve “a number of useful computational problems, such as discrete classification, image processing, storage and retrieval of tactile information, and even weather forecasting.”