Brain-Computer Interface
a technology to let you communicate by just thinking

Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) or Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) is a type of communication technology between the brain’s electrical activity and a computer or an external device to extract the brain waves and decode them to be understandable pattern. This technology allows us to communicate more conveniently with people with paralysis, or patients with mental disorders.

Normally, when a change in the environment (either external or internal) is detected by a receptor in our brain, it transforms environmental stimuli into electrical nerve impulse and transmits via Central Nervous System (CNS) to muscles or glands that produce a response to a stimulus. But the brain-computer interface transmits the information directly from the brain (CNS) to an external device without passing the above-mentioned pathway.

The electrical activity in the brain can be measured on the scalp and in the brain, so BCI devices are classified into invasive and non-invasive system. The non-invasive BCI system uses electroencephalogram (EEG) signals like the electrical brain activity recorded from electrodes placed on the scalp. On the other hand, in invasive BCI system, the activity of single neurons is recorded from microelectrodes implanted in the brain and it is sent to an external device, so human patients can communicate with others without using their nerves and muscles. This technology is therefore an alternative for people with physical disabilities and unable to communicate on their own.

Samples of BCI development

  1. Neuralink – LINK V0.9

Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Elon Musk aiming to expand the human and machine interface. In 2020, Neuralink announced a prototype LINK V0.9 which is a microchip with tiny electrode threads to be implanted in the brain.

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Neuralink also showed off several pigs that had the prototypes implanted in their head and machinery that was tracking those pigs brain activity in real time. In practical use, it is claimed that this prototype can be used in the treatment of brain-related diseases such as memory disorders, deafness, blindness, paralysis, insomnia, addiction, and depression.

The previous prototype was designed to be positioned behind the back of a person’s ear with several wires stretching to the top of the skull but the new prototype was designed to fit into the top of the skull.

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This Neuralink prototype is like a smartwatch implanted into the brain. It can measure various values such as heart rate, brain activities, and it can also improve the accuracy of the sleep tracking feature.

The device as shown in the above picture must be implanted into the brain by connecting through many tiny wires to transmit neural signals to a circular receptor and then convert it into various data. The receptor transmits data to other devices such as smartphones within a distance of 5-10 meters.

The battery of this device is charged from outside wirelessly. Once it is fully charged, it can be used all day.

2. Facebook – Brain-Computer Speech-to-Text Interface

In 2017, Facebook launched a plan to develop “Brain-Computer Speech-to-Text Interface” which is a technology to convert human thoughts into text message and send directly to a computer without speaking or move any parts of the body.

Connecting this technology with the experimenter’s brains in an experiment at the research center, it was found that the experimenter can type 8 words per minute using her thoughts. In the future, the research team’s goal is to develop a technology that allows humans to use their thoughts to type 100 words per minute.

Unfortunately, in 2021 Facebook has announced to discontinue this project, saying consumer brain-reading still remains very far off. But while Facebook stepped back, many labs are stepping forward to develop this BCI technology.

In the future, if this technology can be put in practice, people will be able to gain enormous medical benefits. For example, it can help paralyzed people caused by accidents or patients with nervous system disorders to be able to communicate with other people again. Normal people can also communicate with each other through their thoughts, or even operate various devices with brain activities like brain waves.

Reference:

https://www.mems2012.org

https://droidsans.com/elon-musk-demonstrate-working-neuralink-chip-on-living-pig