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BCIs Are No Longer a Thing of the Future

Written by Mazhar Suleman

What is BCI?

A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a direct communication corridor between a wired brain and an external device. The most common application of BCIs are researching, assisting, mapping, augmenting or at times repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions.

 

When Did It All Start?

While most of us would think that this hocus focus just erupted now but the reality is that research on BCIs began in the 70’s, a time when common homes didn’t even have access to televisions. The BCI research and development has since focused chiefly on neuroprosthetics applications that aim at restoring impaired hearing, sight and movement.

 

BCIs Now & Beyond

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Brain-Computer-Interfaces aren’t science fiction anymore. Just like personal computers and smartphones, they will first consist of fairly primitive devices but successive iterations will help them rapidly develop into very sophisticated neurological instruments. Given the continually increasing speed of scientific discovery and development in general, a mass revolution can be expected probably much sooner than we think.

Before we reach the level of technological development where we can directly connect the human brain to the internet (and to each other), a great deal of research is needed in three main areas:

  1. “Wetware”, i.e., the brain; Neurosciences, including neurotechnology.
  2. Hardware. Continuing to develop bigger, faster supercomputers.
  3. Software, mostly probably AI via Google Brain, OpenAI, DeepMind.

 Research in all three areas is proceeding at an increasingly rapid pace, supported by both public and private initiatives.

 Here’s an overview of what industry leaders are up to regarding BCIs: -

 BRAIN Initiative from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Understanding how the brain works is arguably one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time.” The White House BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), is a collaborative, public-private research initiative announced by the Obama administration on April 2, 2013, with the goal of supporting the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function. This activity is a Grand Challenge focused on revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain and was developed by the White House Office of Science and Technology as part of a broader White House Neuroscience Initiative.

 Elon Musk

One of the biggest business tycoons has launched a startup by the name of Neuralink to connect brains with computers.  The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX aims to implant tiny electrodes in human brains. Neuralink is pursuing what Mr. Musk calls “neural lace” technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts. Somewhere in his packed schedule, Mr. Musk has found time to start a neuroscience company that plans to develop cranial computers, most likely to treat intractable brain diseases first and later to help humanity avoid subjugation at the hands of intelligent machines.

“If you assume any rate of advancement in [artificial intelligence], we will be left behind by a lot,” he said at a conference last June. The solution he suggested was a “direct cortical interface”—essentially a layer of artificial intelligence inside the brain—that could enable humans to reach higher levels of function.

Steve Hoffman

He and his team spend their time traveling the world looking for new technologies. They have fifty partners in over 22 countries and founder space (Hoffman’s startup) has been rated in four magazines as the number one accelerator for overseas startups.

They realized that the human brain has remained the same over the course of time and as technology is advancing, it is time to revolutionize the way how our brains work.

Considering the prevalent technology EEG (Electroencephalogram) to detect abnormalities in brain waves or in the electrical activity of one’s brain, a procedure is employed where electrodes consisting of small metal discs with thin wires are pasted onto the scalp. The implanted electrodes detect tiny electrical charges that result from the activity of brain cells. This device is being used for medical conditions and for educational purposes as well.

Keeping this as a baseline, Hoffman and his team aim to disrupt the industry.

Read Dreams

These devices are now capable of recording dreams. They can actually capture and identify what a person is dreaming. In order to conduct studies, these devices are attached to a person’s head during slumber and when the subject wakes up, they are asked to recall what they saw in their dreams & their insights are recorded & matched with the patterns they got from their systems.

Though this is just the beginning of where we’re heading, scientists are now developing brain chips that can be inserted into the brain and connected through wireless. They recently experimented these chips on a monkey who due to a spinal injury could not walk.  The insertion was made on one end of the brain & the other end on the damaged area of the lower spine.

After the insertion was successfully made, the scientists sent a message onto the chip & astonishingly, the animal began to walk. What’s more interesting is that the scientists have now implanted a chip in a monkey’s brain via which the animal can easily run an electric wheelchair by simply thinking.

If a monkey can accomplish so much with technology, imagine what humans can do?

Mind to Mind

In the future, there will be a time when humans will be able to communicate without talking. If both parties have chip insertions, they’ll be able to carry out seamless two-way communication regardless of the geographical boundaries.

 Brain to Internet

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Now, if you want to acquire any information, you’ll probably open google and at times it seems quite difficult and time-consuming. But in the future, if you have a chip in your brain then all of sudden you can have every piece of information you want through the internet by merely thinking. All you have to do is just think and all the required information will be at your disposal. Once everyone has infinite access to information, there will be least chances of people not being smart.

Transfer Memories

You won’t only be able to transfer the knowledge but with the help of this technology, one could easily exchange memories as well. For example, if you’ve done skydiving in the past then you can transfer this amazing memory to a loved one.  You’ll be able to share your experiences as well as receive others too.

 VR in Your Head

These days, we have clunky VR devices that we have to put on. But in the future, you can simply download the whole environment you want to and actually live in it. The experience of this will be quite similar to the one in dreams but it would be self-controlled.

 Live Outside Your Body

Rather than being trapped in one’s body, one can be present anywhere anytime they want via the internet. This notion of being Omni-present may help discover mysteries that are yet to be uncovered in the universe and beyond.  

 The Downside

As technological advancements come with their pros, they also come with cons.  With so much information access, the chip can prove to be very dangerous. One could be hacked via the internet, causing much trouble.  If only proper security measures are taken while deploying this technology, it could be of great benefit of mankind.

 



Originally Published December 28, 2018 12:00 AM, Updated February 21, 2019.



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