Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is the next step in computer technology. Electronic implants, once the subject of science fiction, have been around in one capacity or another since the 1970’s, but have made great strides recently. By recent counts, around 100,000 people have cochlear implants allowing them to hear, macular degeneration in the eye is being combated by retinal implants, and of course prosthetic hands and arms can connect directly to the nervous system to allow for more articulated movement, but what about machines connecting to the brain itself?
A Brain Computer Interface system allows users to control machines by hooking up different parts of the brain to a computer, or by using a machine similar to an electroencephalogram (EEG) to interpret brain wave function into complex commands in a computer system, which can then do a number of things. Recently, a test done on humans has attached an array of electrodes from the thalamus (the sensory input area of the brain) and sent signals through the computer, where the stimuli are interpreted. The results were astonishing. They were able to take what people were seeing, and transmit it into images, breaking the barrier between neural functioning and image projection. Some day, this activity may be sent from the area of the brain that remembers things, and video cameras may become a thing of the past. Imagine a world where dreams themselves could be projected onto a screen for all to see.
Animal testing has also yielded results for Rhesus monkeys who have the ability to control robotic arms as articulately as they control their own arms using no more than their own brain-waves. A dragonfly’s brain, isolated, has been able to flutter a set of wings very similar to its own. These tests have been done using everything from simple stocking hat-like apparatus which record brain activity through the skull all the way to far more invasive methods, which appear to be far more reliable.
The invasive tests rest within the gray matter of the brain, and show great promise in their ability to allow disabled individuals senses they would previously have lost for life. Jens Naumann, struck blind after reaching adulthood, was one such patient who received an implant which enabled him better mapping of his vision. Immediately upon receiving the device, he enjoyed improved vision. Alternately, artificial hands and arms have been implemented in people allowing users to even touch and feel the objects they interact with in ways similar to how a real hand feels. Use of this technology to interact with computer software has also been demonstrated effectively. Patients have been allowed the ability to move mouse cursors, type, and even play computer games without moving a muscle. Due to the fact that dangerous scar-tissue is known to develop when implants are placed directly on the brain, semi-invasive subtypes of BCI wetware are currently being studied, including a laser system which interfaces with neurons effectively without touching them.
The next natural step would be computer software specifically designed to enhance able-bodied and minded people for the purpose of enhancing their quality of life. But a sort of bizarre vision of the future comes to light when we imagine the prices of these devices, and we take into account the natural human nature associated with expensive items. Robberies and so-called ‘Chop Shops’ of the future may be quite a grisly place indeed. And what about viruses and bionically enhanced soldiers? One day the internet may connect entire brains into a collective. Think-tanks may be quite literal in nature. Of course looking at this technology with fear is an interesting concept, particularly to those who would be otherwise locked within their own bodies.