Thinking Cap to Talk With Your Dog — BCIs + BBIs

Adeline Lai
9 min readOct 27, 2022

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You got a puppy🐶😄!

But in less than one day, it pooped on your mom’s favourite carpet, ruined your brand new Nike Air Forces and broke into your neighbour’s backyard🙃. What if you could just tell it that “This is the right place to poop” and “No, leave that alone”? And, for the record, don’t you want telepathy?

My dog, Yuzu, when she was 2 months old

Your brain is a Funfetti cake 😋.

While the neurons inside your brain are like the sprinkles that make up a Funfetti cake🍰. Except, your brain has 86 billion sprinkles🤯! Just like how sprinkles can be sorted by colour, you can sort neurons into groups based on functions.

Neurons come in 4 groups: motor neurons, sensory neurons, receptor neurons and interneurons.

As a child, I was fascinated by ✨magic✨.

Whenever you asked me what superpower I’d want to have, I would spend the ENTIRE day imagining all chaos I could create 😈. Today, we don’t have to imagine anymore. With Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs), you could make this a reality.

Brain Computer Interfaces are microphones for your brain🎤.

BCIs detect the active neurons in your brain. You see this as squiggly lines, named brain waves. The brain waves you produce vary depending on what you’re doing. Your brain waves are put into different groups based on their frequency. These groups are called neural oscillations.

You can tell a device to perform tasks based on the brain waves recorded.
These tasks include moving a prosthetic arm🦾, typing with our mind⌨️ and even flying a plane✈️!

There are 3 categories of BCIs:

  1. Non-invasive: Wearable BCIs
  2. Semi-invasive: BCIs placed on the surface of your brain through surgery
  3. Invasive: Implanted into your brain

Brain to Brain Interfaces (BBIs) = BCIs + CBIs

A signal is collected from one brain using a BCI. Then, these signals are converted into pulses. These pulses stimulate another brain using a CBI. Your brain can translate these stimulations into messages!

Just like how addition is the opposite of subtraction, Computer Brain Interfaces (CBIs) sends information from a computer💻 to your brain🧠.

Brain-to-brain interfaces (BBIs) create a telepathic phoneline between you and other people☎️.

BrainNet, a BBI, unlocked telepathy with non-invasive thinking caps. There were 3 people playing a simplified game of Tetris. They were sitting in different rooms, but wore BrainNet thinking caps. The goal of Tetris is to fill the gap on the bottom line by rotating a block on top.

Here’s how BrainNet worked

2/3 people were “Senders”, who could see both the block and the bottom line. The other person was the “Receiver”. However, only the Receiver could rotate the block that needed to fill the gap. To gain points, the Senders had to decide whether the block needed to be rotated. The message was then sent to the Receiver without physical contact.

1. Senders look at their screen with the block and bottom line. Then, they decide whether the block should be rotated.

Left side is Receiver’s screen. Right side is Senders’ screen.

2. Senders send either a “Yes” or “No” to the Receiver. They send “Yes” by looking at an LED light flashing at 17 Hz on the left of their computer. They send “No” by looking at an LED light flashing at 15 Hz on the right of their computer.

When we look at a flickering light, our visual cortex’s signals are linked to, or at, the same frequency as the light’s flickers.

How cool is that😎? These signals are called steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs). SSVEPs can be recorded using electroencephalograms (EEGs).

EEGs are non-invasive BCIs that record your neurons’ activity using electrodes on your scalp.

These electrodes are able to detect electrical currents that flow when your brain is active.

The Muse headset, a popular EEG used to enhance meditation and update you on your brain activity.

Every EEG needs an active, reference and ground electrode. Active electrodes detect electrical signals from your neurons. Reference electrodes are placed on places with no brain activity, such as the tip of your nose. Ground electrodes compare the amount of voltage measured from the reference and active electrodes.

The Senders’ cursors can move to the “Yes” or “No” button depending on the users SSVEPs.

Once the cursor hovers over an answer, the BBI sends 2 painless magnetic pulses to the Receiver’s occipital cortex. This is done using a magnetic stimulator attached to their TMS coil.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), is a non-invasive type of CBI. By wearing a TMS coil near your forehead, painless magnetic pulses can be sent to your brain.

If the message was “Yes”, then the pulse’s intensity would be high enough for the Receiver to see a flash. This flash is called a phosphene. Otherwise, the intensity would be low, so that the Receiver wouldn’t be able to see a phosphene.

The 70-mm Figure-8 Alpha coil (TMS that BrainNet used)

You can also use TMS to help people cope with symptoms of depression!

3. The Receiver receives separate messages from each of the Senders. Then, the Receiver decides whether they should turn the block. The Receiver conveys their decision using the same SSVEP method as the Senders.

Left side is Receiver’s screen. Right side is Senders’ screen.

4. Senders see the Receiver’s decision. If the Receiver is wrong, Senders can send another message to correct the Receiver. Receiver makes final decision after Senders give feedback.

Left side is Receiver’s screen. Right side is Senders’ screen.

In this experiment, the players were right 81.25% of the time.

Currently, you can’t be both the Receiver and Sender. But, this could be achieved with sufficient hardware.

Regardless, this is already enough to train your pet! For example, you could send “No” to your puppy when it bites your shoes.

BrainNet researchers believe that fMRIs may let you send more complex messages in the future. This includes emotional signals and abstract information.

Miguel Nicolelis and his team created the first BBI in 2013.

The BBI’s capabilities were tested on pairs of encoder rats and decoder rats in 2 experiments.

Encoder rats would respond to natural stimuli, such as pressing the lever below a shining LED light. Then, their neuronal activity is used to send a message to the decoder rats through microstimulation.

Using the received message, decoder rats are expected to perform the same task.

The encoder and decoder rats were trained to press levers and make decisions based on microstimulation.

Then, microelectrodes were implanted in the encoder and decoder rats’ brains. They recorded neuronal activity and sent microstimulation pulses.

Before the first experiment, 32 microelectrodes were implanted in the encoder rats’ M1 (primary motor cortex). 4–6 electrodes were placed in the decoder rats’ M1 for microstimulation. The M1 controls how your body moves.

In experiment 1, there were 2 levers in front of the encoder rats. Each lever had a red LED light on top. The encoder rat had to press the lever below the lit LED light. If it pressed the correct lever, water was rewarded.

The microelectrodes recorded the encoder rat’s M1 activity after pressing the correct lever. This was used to determine the amount of ICMS pulses sent to the decoder rat’s M1.

ICMS pulses activate neurons in the cortex.

These pulses are sent to the decoder rat using the electrodes in its M1. One ICMS pulse meant that the decoder had to press the right lever. A train of ICMS pulses meant that it had to press the left lever. The number of ICMS pulses in the train changed based on the encoder rat’s neuronal activity.

The decoder rat presses one of the levers based on the ICMS pulse(s) it received. If it pressed the same lever as the encoder rat, both rats are rewarded with water.

Before experiment 2, 32 microelectrodes were implanted in the S1 (primary somatosensory cortex) of the encoder rats. 6 electrodes for microstimulation were implanted in the decoder rats’ S1. The S1 lets you feel sensations, such as touch, temperature and pain.

First, the encoder rat determined whether a gap was wide or narrow by comparing it to its own whiskers.

If it was wide, it had to poke its nose to the right side of the chamber. If it was narrow, it had to poke to the left side. If the correct chamber was poked, water was given.

While it determined the width of the gap, the activity in its S1 was recorded. Based on the activity recorded, ICMS pulses were sent to the decoder rats’ S1. One pulse for poking the right side and a train of pulses for poking the left.

The decoder rat is pokes its nose on the left or right water port after receiving ICMS pulse(s). If the decoder rat poked the correct water port, both rats are rewarded with water.

So, why can’t we take the human component and animal component of BBIs and mix them into one?

Not only could we speak to our pets, this could open a new realm of communication between humans and the other species on our planet.

Here are some of my thoughts🤔:

In BrainNet’s experiment, human-to-human BBIs could let you send a “yes” or “no” to another person. Similarly, in both experiments of the rat-to-rat BBI, the encoder rat could telepathically tell the decoder rat to either press/nose poke to the left or right lever/side of chamber.

“Yes” or “No” and “Left” or “Right” are examples of binary information, where there’s only 2 possible answers. Therefore, I think that we’ll be able to send binary information to our pets using BBIs.

BrainNet was non-invasive, but the rat-to-rat BBI was invasive. So, I believe that human-to-animal BBIs would require an implant into our pets’ brains. This does raise ethical concerns, as we would be making the decision to change our pets’ lives forever.

To instruct the decoder rats to perform a task, you had to record the brain activity of the encoder rat while performing the desired task. Thus, if you wanted your dog to raise its right paw, you would need to record your brain activity while raising your right paw. However, we don’t have paws! Humans and animals have different anatomies.

Furthermore, it would require recording directly from your neurons. This means that you would also need a brain implant, just like the encoder rats.

TL;DR

  • BBIs for humans record SSVEPs using EEGs. Then they send painless and magnetic pulses, called TMS pulses to the Receiver. These pulses will be at a higher frequency for “Yes” and lower frequency for “No”.
  • Rats were able to mentally communicate through this process:
  1. Record the brain activity of a rat at a specific area.
  2. Convert activity into ICMS pulses
  3. Use ICMS pulses to stimulate another rat’s brain in the same area.
  • Using non-invasive BBIs, I think we’ll be able to send “yes” or “no” messages to our pets by combining these two technologies.

Here are some cool resources about BBIs!

TED Talk by one of the creators of the first BBI
An overview of the history and research of BBIs

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, please leave a clap. Feel free to comment down suggestions + feedback as well. Follow me for more!

Connect With Me🤝

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Email: adelinelai08@gmail.com

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Adeline Lai

Leveraging AI for Women's Health | Activator @ The Knowledge Society👩‍💻