Army Develops "Synthetic Telepathy" Technology
Soon enough, people will be communicating with thought-transmitted voice or text messages, say researchers who are developing synthetic telepathy technology for the US Army.
The Army grant to researchers at University of California, Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland has two objectives. The first is to compose a message using, as D'Zmura puts it, "that little voice in your head."
The second part is to send that message to a particular individual or object (like a radio), also just with the power of thought. Once the message reaches the recipient, it could be read as text or as a voice mail.
While the money may come from the Army and its first use could be for covert operations, D'Zmura thinks that thought-based communication will find more use in the civilian realm.
This type of technology is not new; using an EEG, or electroencephalograph, and a little bit of thought control produces specific brain waves that can then be translated and conveyed. A researcher in the 60's used an EEG to create morse code messages with his mind - an early example of the potential of this technology.
EEG headsets already exist in the gaming world, where you can direct your avatar to interact with the virtual environment using simple thought commands.
One difficulty in composing specific messages is fundamental — EEGs are not very specific. They can only locate a signal to within about one to two centimeters. That's a large distance in the brain. In the brain's auditory cortex, for example, two centimeters is the difference between low notes and high notes, D'Zmura said.
Placing electrodes between the skull and the brain would offer more precise readings, but it is expensive and requires invasive surgery.
To work around this problem, the scientists need to gain a much better understanding of what words and phrases light up what brain sections. To create a detailed map of the brain scientists will also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG).
Researchers expect that it will be at least a decade or two before synthetic telepathy becomes a reality, and expects that people will adapt to though-based communication by learning to filter their thoughts more efficiently, just as people learn to censor inappropriate words or conversation.
"When I was a kid I occasionally said things that were inappropriate, and I learned not to do that," said D'Zmura. "I think that people would learn to think in a way the computer couldn't interpret. Or they can just switch it off."