Brain-to-brain communication and the Mindnet

Hongtao Hao / 2020-02-25

A conceptual description of how b2b communication works, images from the internet; adapted by Hongtao Hao

Where Does Brain-to-brain Communication Come From? #

“The Internet of Things” (IoT) captures people’s imagination. Experts envision that things in the future would be interconnected and freely share information with each other. For example, a car, through sensors, would be connected with tunnels and bridges it passes through and all other vehicles. Based on IoT technology and big data, an intelligent transportation system (ITS) could be built which promotes safety, efficiency, and conveniences1. Thanks to IoT technology, someday our watches, TV sets, refrigerators, outfits and even our food would be equipped with sensors so that information can freely flow.

The Internet of things does hold the potential to reshape our lives. However, if we are able to bind gadgets people use together, why don’t we bring users into the whole picture?

A brain-computer interface (BCI) allows people to communicate with external devices2. People wear a cap equipped with an Electroencephalograph, or EEG, a set of electrodes that acquire, amplify and filter tiny signals coming from the brain activities and then convert these analog signals to digital signals which can be stored and processed by, and displayed on computers3. In 2009, the Brain Science Institute—Toyota Collaboration Center invented a wheelchair that can receive and interpret humans’ thoughts directly. By just picturing this wheelchair going towards a certain direction, users can drive this thought-controlled wheelchair.

This technology has the potential to revolutionize our lives. We may set temperatures indoors, open the door and operate a UAV just by thinking about it. Those who are disabled and paralyzed could move on robotic limbs or operate assistive equipment4. However, if brain signals could be processed and then become understandable to output devices, why not move a step forward: what would happen if we “translate” this “code” back to signals that humans can perceive and then transmit these waves to another person? Bang! A man would be directly thinking his thoughts into another person’s mind without speaking or typing.

In 2013, in a study conducted by the University of Washington, researcher Rajesh Rao emitted a signal of moving his right hand (he just envisioned it but did not move it). Through complicated Internet connection, this signal was transmitted to the brain of Rao’s colleague Andrea Stocco who then involuntarily moved his right hand5. Though in this experiment, human subjects had to undergo training to emit the right signal and the information transmitted was very simple, this first step showed that brain-to-brain communication is a possibility6.

It should be acknowledged that the realization of perfect brain-to-brain communication is confronted with a wide array of technical problems. To just give one example: we generate much more thoughts than we presume (approximately 2,000-3,000 thoughts per hour) and this poses a major challenge to EGG which has to get greatly improved in order to learn and adept to the wearers’ thinking patterns and pick the right thought.

However, with science and technology advancing, it is possible that humans could tackle all these technical problems so that with only a tiny mobile EEG chip attached to the head, one person can directly ‘think’ an increasing amount of information at a faster pace into others’ brains. Were humanity happy to embrace it, this change would be so disruptive that it would forever revolutionize how people communicate and would also have far-reaching influences on every fabric of society.

Where Does B2B Communication Lead Us #

Speechless human communication #

The first change this brain-to-brain communication brings about might be that we will never use your phones, smart as they are, at least not for texting and calling. The intricate EEG helmets or caps in use this day would someday be reduced to a tiny wireless EEG chip attached to one’s head that could detect and encode brain waves. Receivers, wearing TMS coil (transcranial magnetic stimulation coil, which stimulates small regions of the brain) then decode the processed digital signals. Every wireless EEG chip and every reduced-and-improved TMS coil would have its own ID number or address code. When you want to ‘text’ or ‘dial’ someone, just start thinking about it and your thoughts then would be injected to another person’s mind. Words like ‘Can we have dinner together tonight?’, ‘when are you come home this evening?’ and ‘I would be late for ten minutes because of the traffic’ could be easily exchanged in a brain-to-brain communication system.

Diminishing importance of languages #

Languages, confronting advancing brain-to-brain communication, may play an increasingly less important role in human communication. This does not necessarily mean that language-based communication would totally disappear since languages do not only express thoughts, they also form thoughts. When thinking of arguments for or against an issue, one would find his or her thoughts much clearer and more logical as he or she attempts to put the thoughts in words. However, this is only the case for highly-complicated thoughts that were supposed to be published in a book or expressed in a speech. This thoughts-forming functionality of languages is not needed in people’s daily communication where thoughts are simple and thus easier to be detected and processed by EEG. This brings humans a step closer to bridging language barriers because in a brain-to-brain communication system, the ‘official’ language is brain waves and they are universally understandable. You would encounter hardly any problems in terms of daily communication while living in an environment where a different language is spoken.

However, if humans decide at last to abandon logical thinking altogether and follow their intuition as was told by piles of religious and spiritual texts, language might totally disappear; the possibility of this is relatively low, though.

The “Mindnet” #

The Internet would be replaced, or at least complemented, by the Mindnet built upon brain-to-brain communication. On the Mindnet, information would be stored and accessed in the form of digital signals that could be downloaded by wireless EEG. This merging Mindnet would bring us a lot more than what the existing Internet has to offer.

The quantity of information stored in this Mindnet would be significantly multiplied. No one uploads information onto the Internet constantly, but everyone shares information on the Mindnet around the clock (at night, dreams could be monitored and stored and then be ‘viewed’ by yourself, if you have the time to do so). As discussed above, now we share with others a staggering amount of information about our lives on social networking sites: our photos, videos, experiences, memories and thoughts. This takes time since we have to turn on our phones or computers, click on the app, pick the pictures we are satisfied with, gather thoughts and finally upload this information. Also, sometimes we might dismiss some sights or thoughts as trivial or unimportant and thus fail to upload them. This would not be the case in the era of the Mindnet: what you think, see, hear and even feel would be processed and uploaded at almost any time easily.

Also, the information on the Mindnet would be more vivid and lively. Information on the Internet relies heavily on words (verbal or written) and pictures (still or in motion). The deficit is very obvious: thoughts might be distorted when expressed in words and pictures; video display only part of what we see or experience rather than the panorama (VR solves this problem but VR technology could be considered part of the Mindnet). When stored and shared on the Mindnet, this wide variety of information would be of high fidelity and high resolution and thus proves to be livelier and stimulating. This is because downloaders would ‘feel’ these thoughts, sounds and sights the same way as uploaders did.

Dissolving sense of individuality #

Theoretically, brain-to-brain communication allows one to freely read others’ mind if he is allowed to do so. Thoughts would become transparent. If humanity agrees to let everyone’s thoughts become totally transparent, the word ‘secrets’ would become quite hard for the posterity to comprehend. This might have complicated psychological, philosophical, religious and spiritual implications for humanity.

Transparent thoughts dissolve men’s sense of individuality and ego. When consciousness gets connected through chips and could freely communicate everything—sights, sounds, thoughts and even feelings, it becomes difficult to define the boundary between ‘self’ and others. Although with the sense of self dissolving, it might still remain hard for people to fully comprehend ‘All-That-Is’ or ‘Oneness’ that were believed by a large number of religious and spiritual practitioners to be the ultimate reality, people living in a world of transparent thoughts would at least get a sense of what it feels like to be detached from one’s own body and mind and to be integrated into something larger than oneself.

This trend seems to be already in its embryonic form today as we witness an increasing number of people share with their friends and even complete strangers what they see, hear, think and feel on social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Latest statistics showed that in 2018, each day 2.5 quintillion (1 quintillion = 109 billion) bytes of data was generated7. In 2017, each minute, the following happened on the Internet: 455,000 Tweets created; 400 hours of new video uploaded; 46,740 million Instagram posts shared8. And you have to know that the number of Google searches worldwide in 2016 each minute is 4 million. With the help of brain-to-brain communication which makes information-sharing a lot easier, the above numbers are destined to keep soaring.

Possible Adverse Effects of B2B Communication #

As with the proliferation of the Internet, the widespread use of smart phones and the sweeping trend of globalization and free trade (both are now faced with opposition, though), brain-to-brain communication has adverse effects too. And these undesirable consequences might be thornier and more challenging to handle, as they may involve ethical and legal issues. Repercussions brought about by brain-to-brain communication for humanity are outlined as follows:

Information overload #

As can be seen from the great quantity of information shared on social networking platforms, the amount of data created each day on the Internet of is staggering. The amount of time people spend on the Internet is also astonishing: In 2017, average adult spent around 6 hours each day online, twice as much as that in 20099.

With brain-to-brain communication advancing, the amount of information and of time wasted would be exploding. That is because computer keyboards and smartphone keypads constitute a barrier between ‘you’ and ‘uploaded information’, i.e., you would not want to upload everything about you on the Internet; however, as the Mindnet get embraced, the barrier would be reduced to a tiny EEG chip. With this easy access, people would definitely contribute more to this overwhelming wealth of information stored in the cloud and spend, or more precisely, waste more time on the Mindnet.

Another important change b2b communication might bring is that people will find it increasingly challenging to focus. In today’s computer-mediated communication (CMC), we have the control over whether and when to check new messages. However, in the age of mind-mediated communication (MMC), this might never be the case. People will be constantly searching for, recording, sending, and receiving multi-dimensional information. An emerging field in this context will be its impact on students’ academic achievements in the classroom and work efficiency at workplaces.

Challenged personal privacy and information security #

Personal privacy and information security got challenged in the era of the Internet and this violation might only get worse in the age of the Mindnet. As stated above, only a tiny chip stands between “your everything” and other people. Should our passwords get cracked, we would be standing naked in front of world, literally.

Loosened family bonds #

Communication is not only about exchanging information; it also strengthens the bond between loved ones. Should communication become reduced to a means to an end and genuine face-to-face communication become rare, family ties would be much more fragile. It would be a promising field in the context of brain-to-brain communication to investigate how interpersonal dynamics would be changed via mind-mediated communication.

Addiction to pleasant sensual feelings #

If signals of addictive sensual feelings, like feelings caused by drug use or sexual orgasm, can be stored and transmitted to another person, these easy-to-get drugs would hook a staggering number of people. That said, this concern should not stop people from exploring the promise of brain-to-brain communication as it might get solved if AI in the future can detect these pernicious signals and prevent it from spreading.

Is Humanity Ready? #

Brain-to-brain communication, if achieved and accepted, would definitely transform what we have known for hundreds of thousands of years. Some may say this is impossible to come true, but Pablo Picasso once said “Everything you can imagine is real”. The thing is whether humanity is ready or happy to embrace this “reality”.

References #

  1. Intel Internet of things (IoT) (2019). Intel. ↩︎

  2. Thought-controlled wheelchair . (2011, June 4). Illumin. ↩︎

  3. Grabianowski, E. (n.d.). How brain-computer interfaces work . howstuffworks. ↩︎

  4. Shih, J. J., Krusienski, D. J., & Wolpaw, J. R. (2012). Brain-computer interfaces in medicine. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 87, pp. 268–279). Elsevier. ↩︎

  5. Boyle, A. (2013, August 27). Mind meld? Scientist uses his brain to control another guy’s finger . NBC News. ↩︎

  6. Farber, D. (2013, August 27). Scientist controls colleague’s hand in first human brain-to-brain interface . Cnet. ↩︎

  7. Marr, B. (2018, May 21). How much data do we create every day? The mind-blowing stats everyone should read . Forbes. ↩︎

  8. Schultz, J. (2017, October 10). How much data is created on the Internet each day? Micro Focus Blog. ↩︎

  9. Marvin, R. (2018, June 11). Tech addiction by the numbers: how much time we spend online ). Pcmag. ↩︎

Last modified on 2023-04-07