A Brain-computer interface or (BCI) is a communication pathway between a computer and the brain either to improve cognitive and motor functions or to control an external device. Although currently this technology is mostly used by those with disabilities it is expected once the technology matures there will be many applications for the able-bodied. Future application could also include cognitive enhancement that would vastly improve human intelligence.
The technology can be divided into three varieties: Non-invasive, where the user wears a cap filled with sensors, Partially-invasive where the sensors are placed inside the skull but outside the brain and Invasive where sensors are embedded directly into the brain. The more invasive the sensor the more accurate the signal, but the greater the risk of tissue damage and device failure.
Currently most BCI devices are neuroprosthetic devices such as a cochlear or retinal implants. Whilst neither of these have returned full functionality, they do make a profound difference to sensory experience. These implants send information from the device to the brain, rather than from the brain to the device.
Miguel Nicolelis demonstrated in 2003 that the signals from a monkey brain could be processed to control a robot arm. This technology has recently become refined enough to allow a paralyzed human patient to reach and grasp with a robot arm.
For these technologies to mature a greater level of accuracy in signal processing will need to be achieved. This will require a greater number of sensors and a better understanding of neuroinformatics.
It had also been noted by Vernor Vinge that neuroprosthetics that greatly improved cognitive ability would also provide an alternative path to achieving the Singularity.
It has also been suggested that by gradually replacing the brain with neuroprosthetics it would be possible to upload the brain to a computing substrate.
- ThinkTech A blog dedicated to BCI developements
- Paralyzed patient controls robot arm using BCI Article from KurzweilAI
- Demonstration of paralyzed patient using robot arm from Nature Magazine YouTube
- Demonstration of a blind patient with a Retinal Implant reading from Discovery Magazine YouTube
- Achieving the Singularity with Brain-computer interfaces by Vernor Vinge
- Beyond Boundaries by Miguel Nicolelis on Amazon.
- A Framework for approaches to transfer the Mind's Substrate by Sim Bamford