A Few Recent Developments in Brain-Computer Interface

BCI technology and the convergence of mind & machine are on the rise. Wired Magazine just published an article by Michael Chorost discussing advances in optogenetic neuromodulation. Of special interest, he notes the ability of optogenetics to both read & write information across neurons.

In theory, two-way optogenetic traffic could lead to human-machine fusions in which the brain truly interacts with the machine, rather than only giving or only accepting orders. It could be used, for instance, to let the brain send movement commands to a prosthetic arm; in return, the arm’s sensors would gather information and send it back.

In another article featured at IEEE Spectrum, researchers at Brown University have developed a working microchip implant that can wirelessly transmit neural signals to a remote sensor. This advance suggests that brain-computer interface technologies will evolve past the need for wired connections.

Wireless neural implants open up the possibility of embedding multiple chips in the brain, enabling them to read more and different types of neurons and allowing more complicated thoughts to be converted into action. Thus, for example, a person with a paralyzed arm might be able to play sports.

MindHacks has discusses the recent video of a touch-sensitive prosthetic hand. This is a Holy Grail of sorts for brain-machine interface: the hope that an amputee could regain functionality through a fully-articulatable, touch-sensitive, neural-integrated robotic hand. Such an accomplishment would indeed be a huge milestone. Of note, the MindHacks appraisal focuses on the brain’s ability to re-image body maps (perhaps due to it’s plasticity).

There’s an interesting part of the video where the patient says “When I grab something tightly I can feel it in the finger tips, which is strange because I don’t have them anymore”.

Finally, ScienceDaily notes that researchers have demonstrated rudimentary brain-to-brain communication mediated by non-invasive EEG.

[The]experiment had one person using BCI to transmit thoughts, translated as a series of binary digits, over the internet to another person whose computer receives the digits and transmits them to the second user’s brain through flashing an LED lamp… You can watch Dr James’ BCI experiment at YouTube.

One can imagine a not too distant future where the brain is directly transacting across wireless networks with machines, sensor arrays, and other humans.

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