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New research places us on the cusp of brain-to-brain communication. Could the next step spell the end of individual minds?

You already know that we can run machines with our brainwaves. That’s been old news for almost a decade, ever since the first monkey fed himself using a robot arm and the power of positive thinking. Nowadays, even reports of human neuroprostheses barely raise an eyebrow. Brain-computer interfaces have become commonplace in everything from prosthetic vision to video games (a lot of video games; Emotiv and NeuroSky are perhaps the best-known purveyors of Mind Control to the gaming crowd) to novelty cat ears that perk up on your head when you get horny.

But we’ve moved beyond merely thinking orders at machinery. Now we’re using that machinery to wire living brains together. Last year, a team of European neuroscientists headed by Carles Grau of the University of Barcelona reported a kind of – let’s call it mail-order telepathy – in which the recorded brainwaves of someone thinking a salutation in India were emailed, decoded and implanted into the brains of recipients in Spain and France (where they were perceived as flashes of light).

You might also remember breathless reports of a hive mind emerging from the depths of Duke University in North Carolina during the winter of 2013. Miguel Pais-Vieira and his colleagues had wired together the brains of two rats. Present a stimulus to one, and the other would press a lever. The headlines evoked images of one mind reaching into another, commandeering its motor systems in a fit of Alien Paw Syndrome.

 

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