Everyone’s talking about ChatGPT, Apple’s Vision Pros, and other emerging technologies, but not many people know about Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs). Just as EKGs monitor heart activity during doctor check ups, a BCI is a computer based system that can monitor, analyze, and translate brain activity into a command in order to carry out a function or action.
BCIs are most commonly relevant to the clinical field, automotive industry, and even entertainment. They have helped blind people see patterns and recognize what is around them, help paralyzed patients have control over robotic body parts, diagnose neurological diseases, treat dementia or ADHD, prevent car crashes, and so much more. BCIs can also be used in entertainment, where you can play video games with your mind and even combine it with Virtual Reality (VR), enhancing a whole new experience.
People have been taking action in this field, including Elon Musk.
Elon Musk’s neuroscience startup, Neuralink, was made to “push the boundaries of neural engineering.” (Neuralink) Their initial plan is to use brain computer interfaces with Artificial Intelligence to help patients with spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s, and Dementia. As their technologies develop, they will be able to access more areas of the brain, extract more data, and scale to treat even more neurological disorders.
Neuralink’s design for the neural implant is invasive, but they claim it will have enhanced functionalities that push past the capabilities of non-invasive technologies.
Their technology has many micron-scale threads, each with many electrodes to detect neuron signals. They are implanted in areas of the brain involved in movement.
Other features that Neuralink claims for the future is wireless bluetooth connection and charging, an app that directly connects to your brain with training game exercises. Their goal is to help people communicate with their brain in text, writing, art, anything. I know. The future sounds like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Neuralink isn’t the only initiative innovating in this space.
NeuroPace is a company that uses BCIs to provide smart treatments for people with Epilepsy (NeuroPace). It works by monitoring your brain activity for 24 hours, recognizes unique patterns in brain activity to respond accordingly, and records this data for your doctor to see.
Neuralink and NeuroPace are invasive interfaces that are effective in clinical applications, but there are also non-invasive wearables like Emotiv and Muse. Emotiv is also a popular product that uses BCI technology (including apps, VR, and AR), to promote relaxation and empower our minds (Emotiv). Muse is a headband you wear across your forehead in order to train your mind to meditate and focus (Muse). The non-invasive design is naturally more trusted by the public than the invasive solutions, but they are less specialized to patients’ health metrics.
With all these innovations brought to us by emerging technology, we also have to consider – is the future of BCIs ethical?
Hearing the future of BCIs sounds like a whole different reality, and just like any other new emerging technology, there are interesting questions to consider.
Essentially, we are putting synthetic parts inside our organic beings, and with no historical or evolution data, how would we know our bodies will react to this technology? What would be the social, political, and ethical rules around a cyborg community? How would our everyday societal interactions change?
If we are thinking even further into the future, even more questions come up like, will privacy be lost in humanity? Will we have less control over our thoughts? Can we trust BCIs to be secure and reliable? Could our brain get hacked? Could data get stolen?
These could all be valid questions, or, if you think about it from another perspective, they could seem pretty far-fetched. We don’t know everything about the brain, and our technology is still developing in this field. It’s not like technological advancements changing our world are not unheard of. No one from the 19th century would have guessed that we could talk to our phones or communicate to someone across the world with just a metal, rectangular box.
Overall, the future is unclear, and asking these questions, weighing the positives and negatives as a community, are all important as continuing to innovate, thinking outside of the box and diving into uncharted territories.