The article begins with an imaginative example of what is possible with a brain-computer interface (BCI) that seems more like science fiction. It allows the person with the BCI to access everything that we currently do with our phones (particularly message management). While the scenario is still a ways in the future, some of the elements of the imagined possibilities are being researched. There are already medical professionals working on translating brain signals for people who are paralyzed, but it has much wider implications. Currently, work on BCI is very clinical and the research is targeted for neuromuscular ailments and conditions. We’ve actually covered some of the most recent examples of how the technology is evolving and helping to connect damaged areas of the brain and the spine, including the work of Edward Chang with a stroke victim trying to regain some use of his body.
There is a lot of potential for BCI to focus on different parts of the brain for a range of uses. Researchers are mapping the brain and neurons and how they relate to different muscles, including the vocal cords. The use of deep learning is what helps researchers to better understand the brain and to see how the thoughts translate into signals that can be used to create the right action from the body or words.
Facebook was actually one of the primary funding sources for the project, and they had an interest in using the research to create an AR/VR headset. However, the research was not compelling enough for what they wanted. Following the study, Facebook said that it was discontinuing the idea of a headset and would work on another product instead. This shows that regular consumer use is still a way from being practical, but it is still under consideration. Other studies and universities will continue to study the use of BCI for medical needs, as well as considering other uses. Making BCI a more normalized consumer product will require looking into safer ways to install the devices in the mind. They will need to meet regulations of the Food and Drug Administration and risks will need to be considered to ensure that BCI can be implanted safely. Facebook’s headgear has shown that there is not an easy, noninvasive method currently available. It is expected that the first consumer products will be less sophisticated than what is currently in medical trials. Designers also need to come up with BCI designs that are optimized communication between the brain and device without being a burden on the wearer. The designs are getting increasingly smaller, which is a positive sign for what is to come.
If you are interested in learning more about this emerging technology, you can read the full article at Brain Implants Will Arrive Sooner Than You Think. What Does That Mean, Exactly?. There is even a short video you can watch to see how this medical research can translate into everyday use.