The concept of mind control sounds like something that only exists in sci-fi movies. Until now. Recent work from Zhejiang University on developing a system appears to allow human mind control over the rat’s movements. This “brain-to-brain interface”, or BBI, is achieved by wirelessly coupling the brains of a human operator and a “rat cyborg” and transmitting brain activity in real time.

Brain cells communicate with each other mainly through electrical signals. In this study, the human operators are equipped with electrodes attached to their scalp. Electrical signals are recorded by a computer and translated into specific instructions such as turning left or right, or moving forwards or backwards. The “rat cyborgs” are rats with electrodes implanted into the brain regions that control their movements. When the human operator thinks a specific instruction, the corresponding implanted electrode sends a stimulation signal to the rat’s brain, making it respond to the commanded direction. In one test experiment, rats were asked to complete a series of navigation tasks such as climbing and descending steps, turning left or right, and going through a tunnel in a three-dimensional maze under control of the BBI system. A total of six rats were put into 10 consecutive tests each and all of them were able to complete the pre-determined maze route in 5 minutes with >80% success rate.

According to the authors, future experiments will be focused on communication between two human brains. This could be incorporated into physical therapies, such as helping paralyzed patients re-develop motor skills. As promising as it sounds, however, it’s important to note that electrodes attached to the operator’s scalp cannot record very fine signals, which potentially limits the accuracy and specificity of this BBI system. For example, you could tell my brain to jump, but not how high.

Managing Correspondent: Anqi Zhang

Press Articles: Scientists connect a human brain and ‘rat cyborg’ brain togetherCNET.

With new technology, mind control is no longer science-fiction. Massive Science.

Original journal article: Human Mind Control of Rat Cyborg’s Continuous Locomotion with Wireless Brain-to-Brain Interface. Scientific Reports.

Image Credit: Sergey Khakimullin/Dreamstime

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