Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
We are officially one step closer to becoming Jean Grey. In research published recently in PLOS One, scientists were able to send a one-word email from one person's brain to another's.
In the study, researchers combined brain-computer interfacing and computer-brain interfacing to send an email "between" brains. To begin, a participant in India transmitted information by moving his or her hands (to signal "1") and feet (for "0"). These voluntary movements were monitored and categorized with electroencephalography (EEG), which can differentiate between the two neural activity patterns. The participant's "message" was then sent along to France via email.
In France, a robotized transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device was able to deliver pulses to the second participant based on the code it received from the person over in India. For 1, the TMS device would deliver a pulse to the subject's occipital lobe, which he or she would see as a light flash. For 0, the pulse wouldn't produce the light flash. From these inputs, the participant used a provided code and was able to piece together and translate the message ("hola" or "ciao").
This brain-email process wasn't developed out of thin air: Previous experiments with EEG have been able to non-invasively link a human brain to a rat brain and allow us to control all manner of gadgets. It's not quite Scanners-level telepathy (thankfully), but it's pretty awesome. And, we're still a ways off from actual brain-to-brain communication without those pesky computers in between. But, for those of us who sit at computers all day, sending emails via gray matter and TMS might seem like unnecessary fuss anyways. At this point, we'd be happy if we could just email on the subway.