Feb. 28 - Duke University neurobiologist Miguel Nicoleilis says it might one day be possible for animals to communicate and collaborate with each other, using only their thoughts. Dr Nicoleilis has already developed interface technology connecting animal brains with machines, but is now publishing the results of experiments with rats demonstrating the possibilities of so-called brain-to-brain interface technology. Rob Muir has more.
Two rats, in two different countries, wirelessly connected via electrical implants in their brains. The rat on the left is called the encoder. It knows that when it depresses a lever it will receive a reward. What it doesn't know is that the electrical signals generated in its brain are being transmitted wirelessly in real time to the brain of the rat on the right, the decoder, who responds as though the brain signal was its own. According to neurobiologist Miguel Nicoleilis, the decoder's brain sends its own signal back to the encoder, who receives a supplemental reward. "That was a big surprise and is the proof that these guys are collaborating, even though they don't know that there is another animal in another box doing the task, we virtually created a biological computer." Nicoleilis says that whenever the decoder rat made a mistake, the encoder rat would change its brain function to make the signals clearer next time, thereby ensuring it received its reward. "This is a very exciting future line of research that will open many doors, not only for brain-machine interfaces in terms of rehabilitation but potentially, for something in the very distant future that I like to call the Brain-net, a way in which we would be able to communicate just by thinking".