Brain computer interfaces are an emergent innovation in the past two decades. Developing faster and more responsive artificial intelligence, these devices use neuroscience to mimic the neuronal activity in the brain. Essentially, they will allow us to get a better idea of what’s going on in our brains without completely cracking open our heads and dissecting our gray matter. These interfaces are also a means toward developing even smarter artificial intelligence; they could enable robots, computers, and other intelligent machines to interpret human thoughts, emotions, and intentions.
The History of Brain Computer Interfaces
Researchers have been studying the possibility of a direct brain-to-computer interface for over 50 years. Today, there are a number of BCIs on the market, from products like one developed by NeuroSky to more exotic devices like the BioPen that’s being used by some artists and designers. These devices have traditionally been used as a therapeutic tool in neurology, often to treat severe disabilities. But that’s not all they can do.
There are many uses for BCIs, including helping people with epilepsy control their seizures, providing a way for quadriplegics to communicate with their loved ones after injury and providing an assistive device for those unable to communicate verbally. Some researchers are also investigating ways of using them in non-therapeutic settings to help people interact with computers or play video games.
The Current State of Brain Computer Interfaces
Brain-computer interfaces have been around for decades but have only recently been made available for public use. The first commercial BCI was released in 1998; since then many others have been developed and marketed by various companies including NeuroSky, Emotiv Systems Inc., OpenBCI, and InteraXon.
They may be used by individuals with disabilities who do not have full use of their limbs (e.g., those who are paralyzed).
They also may be used by healthy individuals who want better control over their mobile phones or other devices without having to physically touch
How Brain Computer Interfaces Work
It’s been a long-standing goal of researchers to establish direct communication between human brains and computers. A machine, using the information from our thoughts, could help us communicate or “read” our emotions. Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) are devices that measure brain waves and convert them into signals that a computer can understand. The most common application for BCIs is to help people control prosthetic limbs. BCIs also have the potential to help with depression, ADHD and many other conditions.
Benefits of BCIs
Brain-computer interfaces could change lives by helping people regain motor skills after stroke or spinal cord injury. Other conditions like ALS, cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury could also benefit from these devices because they may allow patients to communicate more effectively with the world around them. In addition, BCIs could be used to treat people with depression by helping them regulate their emotions or to treat people with ADHD by helping them focus more intently on specific tasks.
The Uses of Brain Computer Interfaces
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are systems that use brain signals to control something outside the body, usually a computer, but also including robots and prosthetic limbs. BCIs are often confused with other technologies that measure mental activity, such as electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical brain activity on the scalp. But BCIs interpret signals directly from neurons in the brain, bypassing the usual pathways of peripheral nerves and muscles.
BCI research began in the 1970s when researchers started trying to decode brain activity to understand what people were seeing and thinking about. A person’s thoughts are represented by complex patterns of neural activity distributed across different parts of the brain. The goal was to interpret these neural codes in real-time and translate them into commands for external devices. For example, a BCI could allow a user to type just by thinking about moving their hands, move a cursor on a screen or turn on an artificial limb.
The first generation of BCIs used implanted electrodes to record individual neurons firing in patients undergoing neurosurgery for epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease. These invasive electrodes were so sensitive that they could detect neural activity even when there was no blood flow to the area. This led researchers to discover that neural signals can be generated passively using EEGs
The Future of Brain Computer Interfaces
Some of the most exciting advances in brain computer interfaces are in the field of motor control. BCI is being used for the rehabilitation of patients who have lost motor function following stroke, spinal cord injury, or brain injury.
A spinal cord injury is when damage occurs to the spinal cord preventing messages between the brain and the body. Spinal cord injuries can cause loss of muscle function, sensation and autonomic function (breathing, blood pressure etc).
If a spinal cord injury is incomplete then a patient may retain some degree of sensation or muscle control below their level of injury. Some patients may regain movement over time as their bodies heal. In others this does not happen, or does not happen soon enough. This can leave people with long periods of paralysis which can cause muscle wastage and loss of bone density. It can also make it difficult to restore function after rehabilitation as muscles have become weak or atrophied.
Brain computer interfaces is an exciting new technology field. The types of technologies that are being created are so cool it’s difficult to not get excited about the possibilities. Not only do these BCI’s allow for someone to control a computer just by thinking about what you want to do, but there are also sensors that allow for data to be gathered from the brain. We may have just begun tapping into the endless possibilities of what people will be able to create in the future with these incredible technologies. I’m looking forward to seeing where this field goes and how it will grow.