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Brain Computer Interfaces – the New Frontier

Brain interfacing machines, Brain computer interfaces (BCI) and neurotechnology has been a constant fixation and inspiration for scientists, writers and filmmakers for generations.

Serious consideration and investment has been given to the techniques and technology that can measure and glean insights from the electrical activity of the brain.

Blood flow changes and the electrical signals between synapses (nerve ending) are often used to discern the kind of responses in the brain’s state.

Up until now, this kind of technology has been used to decode simple patterns of activity, allowing people with paralysis to control external devices just by thinking. BCIs have also been used in research to reconstruct visual images from the brain from a person’s dream-like states and visual imagination.

What technology is currently available?

Electroencephalography (EEG) is one established method that measures electrical activity in the brain. Users can learn to control their brainwaves in specific ways (like imagining moving their left or right hand) to control a computer cursor or other device. It can be used by people with severe motor disabilities.

Neuralink is a company founded by Elon Musk that is developing an implantable brain computer interface. The firm’s goal is to enable humans to merge with AI. Initial experiments have demonstrated that a wireless implant that can be implanted and record neural activity in a pig and a monkey. Neuralink say that it has been founded to restoremobility to people with paralysis, but these developments will also yield insights that pave the way for other uses of the way the brain can join with with machines.

Another company, Emotiv, produces EEG headsets which can be used to gain insights for use in meditation, cognitive performance tracking and rudimentary interaction with digital systems based on brainwave activity. It provides data and insights much like fitbits do, and is marketed towards more a self-development audience.

Will Brain computer interfaces become a common reality?
Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on unsplash.

Finally, Neurable specializes in interpreting EEG data for interaction within both virtual and augmented reality environments. It has a hands-free control scheme and includes a headset that collects EEG data, and uses advanced signal processing and machine learning algorithms to interpret this data. Its goal is to provide users with hands-free, voice-free control over software and hardware. Allowing people to interact with a VR environment using only their thoughts, Neurable described this technology as a “brain mouse”, meaning users could select objects in the VR space just by focusing on them.

The ethics of BCI

Connecting our brains with machine interfaces means that our thoughts are then open to others. If you think big tech companies haven’t already got enough data to sell to advertisers, imaging what then could do with that information gained from your most innermost thoughts.

Governments and the police/security services could also use this to detect “thought crimes” or pre-detemined malicious activity that “harms the state”. Think it wouldn’t be done? Don’t bet on it.

We’re already seeing what concerns the nascent development of a technology brings with the widespread use and proliferation of AI. Don’t think the same won’t happen with BCI.

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