Can we control someone’s mind and brain via the internet?

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Science and Engineering

Can we control someone’s mind and brain via the internet? Technological empathy we might call this. I know, you may be thinking the title of this article is misleading, but maybe not for long – Alexander Graham Bell would definitely jump into the well on reading this article and reflecting on the latest ways we are twisting and turning his simple invention of communication via the telephone.

Remember the good old days of your father saying “Hello, Hello” on the phone when an uncle called from overseas. Not only Uncle in America, but also everyone else on your street could hear Father’s Hello, thanks to the poor quality of the ISD lines as recently as the 1970’s. The explosion of the communication technology since then has been faster than watching a Ping-Pong game between the Table Tennis Men’s No 1 and No 2 (invariably Chinese) playing in Hong Kong.

Let us go through a quick checklist of how communication evolved, since Dr. Bell uttered those famous lines “Mr Watson-come here-I want to see you” way back in the late 19th century.

First came STD and ISD, then the fax, then the computer, then Internet, then WWW, then the cell phone, then Yahoo and Hotmail, then Google, then iPhone, SmartPhone and ChinaPhones, then Facebook, then Skype and Videochat  and just too many more to list. If you feel anything, more relevant was required in the list, do the right thing of dropping in a comment for us to credit you. Dr Bell no longer has to tell Mr. Watson to come here; he can see even the mole on his left cheek by sitting in another room while communicating.

You have seen automation in many areas of life these days, but you have not felt it so much in your communication instruments. The Japanese still have not invented a robot for you to control and help to weekly dial your mother (back in your hometown) and dutifully convey to her “Yes Mom, I’m fine, trust your doing fine. I’ll wire you the money tomorrow. Give my Love to All”. All that may change in the future, thanks to a few bright researchers from the University of Washington.

Telepathy via the Internet coming soon to a computer near you

Back in 2013, two Washington University researchers, Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco felt that people needed an easier way to communicate other than using their hands, so they came up with a certain experiment and devised (in their terminology) the first human-to-human, brain-to-brain non-invasive method of remotely controlling of another person’s hand with the help of computers.

The researchers appear to forget how the wife can silently communicate to the husband that he is incorrectly holding the fork and knife at a dinner function!

The slim likelihood of the top-end brain surgeons and Silicon Valley Internet researchers reading this article compels us not to give too many graphic technical details of their experiment, but we would suggest the real geeks in our readers to visit ExtremeTech website where mention of this experiment first appeared. There is way too much medical jargon in their experiments, to keep alive the interest of normal Internet readers (who are more interested in the next buzzing raunchy video).

Ok, how the hell do I do it?

You can’t. But here’s the overly technical “recipe” which most of you will feel bored while reading.

This is a brief synopsis of what they did. They actually used instruments already existing in the field of medicine and Brain-computer interface (BCI – wonder which other parts of our body they are going to interface next with the computer).

They connected the two protagonists in the experiment (the sender and the receiver) to computers, the sender to a EEG-based machine via BCI and the receiver via Magstim transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS – women reader’s may be forgiven for mistaking this for some other syndrome).

The sender plays a game on his computer and fires cannon at a target. The EEG picks it up, transmits the signal over the net to the other computer, which TMS picks up and proceeds to stimulate the receiver’s motor cortex, which controls hand movements.

Did shivers run down your spine at the same time, as the signal was passing through the net? The key technology in the entire process is TMS  (similar to transcranial direct current stimulation-  tDCS). The key difference between the 2 technologies is tDCS uses electrical current to reach the brain affecting neurons, TMS only uses electromagnetic induction minimizing damage to the brain cells. Harvard at performed another similar experiment but it was on human-to-mouse interface (I guess Harvard feels more comfortable dealing with mice than people) and they used focused ultrasound (FUS).  There must be many things running through your mind as you become aware of what you can do with such powers, but Chandel Prat, another research in this team, tries to put a full stop to that:

“We will not use this technology on a person, unknowingly or without their willing participation”.

How the Syrian Government would have loved President Obama back then sharing similar thoughts with Chandel, regarding missile strikes. The UW team, not content to sit on their laurels, wants to transfer more information that is complex between two people. They rationalize there are 2 ways of achieving this – the simpler approach is encoded pulses (or brain-to-brain Morse code – Dot brain dot, do you read me? Dot brain dot, yes I do). The complex route is to decode the human brain and stimulating it to create actual images and thoughts which can be transferred over the same route.

Are You Ready to Let Human’s Invade you over Cable wires?

We can have a quiet chuckle at the seemingly bizarre experiments which are being conducted, but make no mistake, sometimes these experiments come to bite you where and when you least expected it.

Look at the frightening possibilities, which can come up if the UW experiments become commercially viable and sell faster than a Galaxy Note book.

  • Nerds, who pay hard cash to watch a woman strip over a webcam, will now get much fuller control of what they desire.
  • Unmarried women – the ones who keep running advertisements on marriage and dating sites, in the never-ending hope of landing the successful man of their dreams, can add a subtle signal to draw the poor hapless soul who clicks the link.
  • Online sites like Google, Facebook and Linkedin will have a field day with this kind of telepathy, conveniently forgetting the key word used by Prat – Willing participation.
  • Any hapless subscriber to these sites will have more brain impulses transmitted than the Allied soldiers had to face when landing on the beaches of Normandy.

Before you start panicking and go into a tizzy over this, let us review the other side of the equation.

University researchers are conducting the experiments and not Samsung’s technology team. The chances of this getting converted to viable technology would have been much shorter if it was one of those garage shops in Silicon Valley dreaming of being the next Sergey Brin or Larry Page.

With the number of restrictions companies and countries put over accessing websites (only a lucky few in office have unfettered access), the possibility of such technology being sanctioned in North Korea (where Internet is banned) is practically zilch. This technology involves human-to-human communication in a world where verbal communication between husband and wife, father and child,mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is rapidly plummeting, so the chances of an internet committee agreeing on protocols for this technology recede further.

People all over the Arab world are fighting for their own private space and some University researchers, (with a seemingly never-ending budget) are trying to find new ways of intruding that space.  The researchers have researched well, but have they researched the subtle after-effects, the electro-magnetic radiation will leave behind?

If all this still leads to some way of invading your brain through a computer, you can use your final 2 poker cards – Give up modern life and retire to the mountains as a hermit or take a one-way ticket to North Korea (where Internet is not available to the ordinary citizen).

Recommended Further Reading

What happens when you stand in front of a microwave oven?

Ever wondered if it's dangerous to stand in front of a microwave oven in operation? Microwave ovens involve a certain risk of catching the radiation; for instance, some people argue that standing in front of it while it is cooking food is dangerous because some of the...

Can we control someone’s mind and brain via the internet?

Can we control someone's mind and brain via the internet? Technological empathy we might call this. I know, you may be thinking the title of this article is misleading, but maybe not for long - Alexander Graham Bell would definitely jump into the well on reading this...