In today’s digitalized world where humans are constantly trying their hard at creating technology that would improve both the standard of life coupled with the ultimate achievement of our potential. We find ourselves with a piece of technology Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). This aims to bring together the human brain and the technology that these brains have conjured and invented.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)
Brain-computer interfaces or BCI, are systems that enable communication between the brain and various machines. It is an interface that helps create neural pathways. Then translates into actionable outcomes from the machinery.
Advancement in the field of medicine. This particular piece of technology creates an attempt to improve the standard of life. For paralyzed individuals that might have lost motor function. This is now available as a tool that holds the potential to completely change how humans function daily.
Before further dissecting, let’s go through the BCI process that consists of three major steps:
1) The collection of brain signals
The BCI works in tandem with the brain and collects any/all signals (messages) that the brain is trying to send to the body in an attempt to communicate
Once the signals are available, the BCI goes through a process of interpretation. Whereby it accumulates the messages and understands them in its own computerized language
3) Outputting commands
The last step is the output. Whereby the interpreted messages go onto the machinery by the brain signal that was initially received.
This entire process starts with a simple message. Ends with the machine performing by that particular message.
Types of BCI
There are several techniques to measure brain signals and interpret them. We can divide them into 3 major categories/types:
These refer to sensors on the scalp to measure the electrical potentials produced by the brain (EEG) or the magnetic field (MEG). In this particular technique, the internal makeup of the brain isn’t interfered with at all.
The electrodes are placed on the exposed surface of the brain (also called ECoG). Which enables them to record some data from the neurons. But also maintains a relative distance from the internal makeup of the brain.
The internal makeup is interfered with, and micro-electrodes go directly into the cortex. Which enables it to measure every activity of a single neuron.
How Does BCI Work?
The BCI technology enables a human brain to quite literally ‘talk’ to an external device through the exchanging of signals. It provides humans with the opportunity to directly control machines. Without any physical constraints whatsoever.
Whether through invasive procedures that require an electronic device to be implanted beneath the skull. Or non-invasive tools that use sensors to track/record/transmit activity. The end goal is the same: have the machines communicate with the brain.
Through the creation of this procedure where humans could communicate directly with machines. BCI has showcased the potential to influence almost all facets of life. Let’s go through some Applications and Risks of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI).
Applications Of BCI
One of the commonly discussed prospects for the BCI is in the arena of ‘smart’ technology. Researchers believe that through the usage of BCI. One can make previously passive devices into ‘smart’ and rather ‘active’ devices. An example of this could be prosthetics. Whereby the user can utilize the BCI to communicate with it. Like they would with natural hands to carry out daily everyday tasks.
Moreover, researchers believe that deaf individuals could also use BCI-controlled communication devices. To communicate with each other. While this, in particular, is a much recent idea that requires further research. It definitely has the potential of changing lives.
Probably one of the most intriguing prospects. Telepresence refers to giving someone the ability to make their presence felt. At a remote location through the usage of telerobotics. In other words, you could be somewhere without actually having to be there.
Military personnel who supports the argument has advocated for the usage of BCI in the military. To help them keep their eye on any form of suspicious activity. Or simply track/patrol sensitive areas. Without sending physical forces and putting them at the risk of harm.
So it should be no surprise that a large percentage of the funding for BCI technologies has come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The research lab of both the Army and the Air Force. They understand the potential it could have to improve the physical and cognitive power of their personnel.
Even using BCI to have military personnel with prosthetic limbs lead better lives. It is a prospect that greatly excites these military agencies.
This is one of the most interesting cases made for this technology. But it’s believed that through the usage of BCI, road accidents can actually reduce. A car that has BCI enabled, can actually recognize what might be going through a driver’s mind. It can take certain decisions that might prevent accidents in a matter of seconds.
The vehicle giant Nissan is currently researching. To see how a BCI-enabled car control system can actually turn the wheel or slow the vehicle at a pace faster than the driver. Hence giving it the chance to avoid accidents by acting at a faster pace than possible.
If this does indeed become a reality. Then we could be looking at a massive breakthrough in the automobile industry.
Risks of BCI
However, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows because like everything, BCI too has its drawbacks as we’ll see below:
The brain is a complicated organ in an extremely intricate manner. It possesses connections and potentials that we are unaware of. Since we ourselves don’t have a complete understanding of what goes on inside the brain. It’s an unfair assumption then to believe that a man-made tool such as the BCI can interpret all brain signals.
In fact, it poses the risk of the BCI misinterpreting the user’s intentions and giving out the wrong signal. A simple example might be that of a differently-abled individual. Hoping to use a prosthetic to raise their index finger. But the BCI might misinterpret the message, and signal the middle finger to lift instead.
There will always be the underlying risk of inaccurate results or the passing of messages/signals that the user had not intended for in the first place.
While this may not be a super crucial problem. It still poses itself as a potential flaw/concern. The BCI system is highly complicated. It requires the connection of several wires. Due to the interface that’s established between the brain and the machine. a makeup that could actually lead to a rather uncomfortable user experience.
There’s not just the physical issue. But also the mental stress that the user might have to go through. As they have such a ‘wired-up brain.
Lack Of Security
Whenever you’re purchasing a digital service or product. You’re always concerned about the security of that product i.e. how secure you and your data are post-purchase.
In the case of BCI however, none of this security is guaranteed. Since this is a computerized system. There exists the possibility of someone else taking over the system. Or ‘hacking’ it and gaining control over your system. So, no one wants someone else to control their brain, right?
This is a major threat even in the military field. Because there exists the possibility of an enemy force hacking into the BCI. Using it to their advantage leading to huge damages for the user.
It’s a scary prospect and one that requires utmost care and attention.
It’s Still Great!
Despite the fear that looms around the technology itself. It still is a revolutionary piece of technology. It has the potential to transform lives and the world as a whole.
In the world of business, you could use BCI in marketing. To measure the attention generated post-watching of your commercial. Or post-engagement with any marketing material/content that your business might have put out.
Similarly, BCI improves cooperation with the IoT. It can help create smart environments. Like smart houses, transportations or even change the entire workplace environment.
At the end of the day, this is a technology that brings with it the utmost potential. Also the ability to incorporate several industries due to its multi-purpose use model.
Yes, the technology is still emerging. There are multiple risks link with it, but given time and research, this can definitely change life as we know it.