Brainet: the first Brains network

Experimental apparatus scheme for a Brainet computing device. A Brainet of four interconnected brains is shown. The arrows represent the flow of information through the Brainet. Inputs were delivered (red) as simultaneous intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) patterns (via implanted electrodes) to the somatosensory cortex of each rat. Neural activity (black) was then recorded and analyzed in real time. Rats were required to synchronize their neural activity with the other Brainet participants to receive water. Credit: Miguel Pais-Vieira et al./Scientific Reports

In Italian we have a phrase: "L'unione fa la forza" that roughly correspond to "United we stand, divided we fall".  The point is that by clustering resources we can perform better.

We do this every day as we cluster in teams to achieve a certain goal, we even use approaches like "brainstorming" to find a better solution. 

What if we could actually tie several brains together ... physically?

At Duke University a team of researchers has been working on Brain Machine interfaces and they have been able two years ago to link the brains of two mice achieving a sort of "thought" transmission.

Now they have published their results on the creation of a Brains Network, they called it Brainet.

In three different experiments they have linked brains of monkeys and rats (monkeys with monkeys and rats with rats) and have shown that indeed a communication is taking place between brains and even more impressive the cluster of brains perfoms better than a single brain!

In the experiments they picked up the electrical signals created by neurones firing and transmitted them to the other brain stimulating the other brain neurones through probes, electrodes, connecting the corresponding brain areas and viceversa. The task involved the moving of a robotic arm in a 3 dimensional space with each monkey (rat) controlling movements only in a plane (two dimensions). It was only through the collaboration of brains that the robotic arm could be operated correctly.

Interestingly, after a learning phase where brains independently learned what type of control they had on the robot and how they could synchronise with the other brains, the "superbrain" proved to be more effective than a single brain in performing the task.

Notice that the experiments are based on the fact that each brain has to learn what the effect of its "thinking" is, we do not have a classic work sharing like you can see in a distributed computation. It is more like the cooperation of autonomous systems, which is not bad at all. Our relationship, as human being working in a team is exactly that: cooperating autonomous systems.

We are quite far, at least this is my take, from having the equivalent of a distributed computation system through direct brain interconnection, but it is clearly the beginning of a new journey that was absolutely science fiction only five years ago.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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