Tired of tapping on the screen of your pesky, high-end smartphone to browse the Internet? No fear, because the awkwardly named “Brainternet” is here! A team of researchers at Wits University in Johannesburg have come out of seemingly nowhere and directly connected a human brain to the Internet for the very first time.
Connecting the human brain to a basic computer isn’t that easy. When the likes of Elon Musk and the US military’s secretive science wing are having difficulties with this type of augmentative technology, it seems a bit surprising that another research institute with considerably less funding has managed it. So what exactly have they done?
According to a press release, the team of neuroscientists and engineers have used an electroencephalogram (EEG) – a device that detects electrical signals in the brain – to transmit neurological activity to a cheap Raspberry Pi computer. This then live streams the data to a program running on a website that anyone can view at any time.
So, it’s not quite what you may have been imagining. It’s essentially a technical window into someone’s neural activity that’s open access. To be fair though, this is a world first, and the motives behind the project are honorable.
“Ultimately, we're aiming to enable interactivity between the user and their brain so that the user can provide a stimulus and see the response,” project coordinator Adam Pantanowitz, a lecturer in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, said in a statement. Although researchers observing EEG readings do this already, this effectively allows more people, including the subject themselves, to see what’s happening up in their head.
There’s more. Pantanowitz adds that “Brainternet can be further improved to classify recordings through a smart phone app that will provide data for a machine-learning algorithm,” which means that “in the future, there could be information transferred in both directions – inputs and outputs to the brain," says Pantanowitz.
Essentially, if programming becomes advanced enough, you’ll be able to send electrical signals – perhaps in the form of data – to the brain of the person whose noggin is hooked up to the EEG reader. That’s a long way off though, as the brain is a very different type of processor compared to a digital computer.
Computers use binary signals, which means information is represented as ones and zeros only. The human brain features several billion bioelectrochemical transmissions that are linked to thoughts and actions, and they’re not expressed as ones or zeros.
If we ever want there to be a match up, there not only needs to be some sort of data conversion device, but a way to identify which signals represent which thoughts and actions – an extremely difficult task.