Brain Interface Devices on the Rise

The latest addition to hands free brain interface comes in the form of a cell phone that can be dialed entirely with the user’s thoughts alone.  Imagine a phone with no touch screen, no buttons, no track ball, and no other way of controlling than your own mind.  If it sounds like science fiction today, just wait – the technology has been used before and could become the next big thing in interfacing.  But what else would keypads created by thought allow?

Cell phones are one of the biggest things in consumer electronics these days.  So when someone says they have something that could profoundly change it – let alone change it to the point where you’re placing calls with your mind – people have a tendency to take notice.  But one team led by Tzzy Ping Jung and his associates working from the University of California have developed an interface system that hooks directly into a user’s brain using a headband that reads brain frequencies.  Their findings?  An almost 100 percent success rate once the user is trained in the interface.  The EEG sensor transmits the signals via bluetooth to the phone and pretty soon a caller is conversing without ever having touched a button.  But will it catch on?

EEG training and calibration tools have already been developed in the form of toys for children, already giving rise to some theories that technology to train the human mind will be a big seller in the future.  But will they actually catch on, or will this simply be a science fiction gadget used by only a select few and those trained in the military who would need to keep their hands free when dialing home base?

This technology could be one of the greatest innovations in the past ten years if it allows patients who were previously disabled to interact with the world around them, but it’s not simply about telephones.  EEG straps could mean mobility for those who would otherwise be unable to do a number of things.  Wheelchairs, automobiles, appliances, and other devices could soon be working off of EEG devices and allowing those who would have otherwise been unable to be independent to suddenly have a whole new world open to them.  A technological variation on telekinesis has been demonstrated several times with patients moving robotic arms with their minds to make the world around them respond to impulses that bypass muscle memory altogether.

But how easy will it be?  When several devices using the method as a game first entered the market in 2009, people declared that the device was often frustrating because it required people to train a whole new set of muscles that existed entirely in the phantom limb of the inner mind.  It may be a technology in the end that does not catch on until a new generation trained since very early on has the opportunity to use it.

But what else could we do exclusively with the mind, and could the dexterity of the mind prove greater than the dexterity of the human hand?  If a keypad with nine digits can be converted into EEG muscle memory, could we one day see typing completely controlled by thought?  Could people enjoy concerts played entirely by one individual who is guiding robotic instruments exclusively controlled by his brain?  And what problems could we one day see as a result of exhaustion from overuse of this EEG interfacing?  It’s a whole new world of questions we may one day have to answer.