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Brain Image Gallery

Many brain-computer interfaces use EEG sensors to measure electrical impulses in the brain. See more brain pictures.

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You don't usually encounter the subject of telepathy outside the world of science fiction. The ability to send your thoughts to someone else seems like a type of magic. But scientists around the world are working on systems that might one day let us communicate with each other just by thinking.

The key to this type of communication is developing a robust computer-brain interface. We will need computers to detect, interpret and send our thoughts through a network to the proper recipient. Computers will also receive, decode and deliver thoughts to the person on the other end of the communication. Strictly speaking, we won't be able to communicate with only our minds -- we'll still depend upon computers to do most of the work.

Even so, the possibility would revolutionize the entire world. People unable to speak could communicate just as clearly as those who can talk. Patients who are locked in -- paralyzed and unable to have a conversation through other means -- would be able to send signals electronically to talk with doctors and loved ones. Soldiers could send information silently as they complete missions.

Language itself could change drastically as a result. Communicating through ideas could transcend words. Instead of thinking "I'm going out for a run," you could imagine yourself running outside and send that thought out. If you were confused about a concept, you could request help from an expert who could think the solution to you.

It's difficult to imagine the full implications of such a system. But that's OK -- we're still decades away from being able to hold entire conversations with other people through thought. The progress we've made so far has been promising, but the science is still in its infancy.

Let's look at what neurologists have managed to do so far.