In visual effects master Douglas Trumbull’s (2001: A Space Odyssey) last feature film, the 1983 proto-cyberpunk Brainstorm, characters create an interface that allows humans to feel the sensations of others. Norway-based artist Diva Helmy’s use of the Human to Human Interface (HHsI) isn’t nearly as precise as this fictional one, but HHsI does allow humans to manipulate and control others, to a certain degree.
With technical development and production by Greg Gage, HHsI allows one individual to wirelessly control the arms of multiple bodies with their brain signals. In a recently released short film titled The Controller, Helmy shows one person controlling another, then another person controlling five. While electrodes are easily seen in the video, HHsI also features an Arduino board, MuscleSpiker shield (which allows users to control things with their muscles), a TENS unit (nerve stimulator), 9-volt batteries, and radio frequency modules.
The project was begun when Helmy and Gage spoke over Skype last summer about a possible collaboration. The Human to Human Interface already existed, but the two wanted to modify it so it could be used at a larger scale in an artistic context. It now features one controller and ten controlled user units.
“The idea was to create an experience in which gallery visitors could use the device and form a physical and wireless network of electrical discharge between each other, one that forced the controlled users to simultaneously mirror the behavior of the controller,” Helmy tells The Creators Project. “The interface presents an exploration into the world of neuroprosthetics and forced control of others’ nervous systems through technology.”
Helmy and Gage are interested in the notion of losing control over one’s own body, and what happens as a result. The Controller, like a science experiment of sorts, is collaborative: two people perform one task—such as playing music—through one body.
“The device transfers the brain signal of one person to the ulnar nerves in the arms of several individuals,” Helmy explains. “The first human’s EMG signal (neurological activity in muscle cells) is recorded as they move their arm. The value of the signal activates the nerve stimulators via radio frequency which then sends an electrical sensation through the arms of the controlled bodies forcing them to move based on when the first individual sends a brain signal to move their own arm.”
All arms move simultaneously based on controller’s brain signal. The wireless signals can be sent between the units up to a distance of 65'. And Helmy says that the technology could support 100 controlled users.
As neat as it is, there is something about the device that might stoke the fears of the paranoid. Keep in mind, though, that this neat technological voodoo kit requires several components. So it’s not as if unseen forces will be controlling us anytime soon, if ever. Well, at least not physically.