Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) show a lot of promise. For consumers and enterprise it could lead to the next wave of device control – a world in which our thoughts replace a mouse, keyboard, and touchscreen. BCIs pose particularly exciting applications in medtech, where they can be used to allow the disabled to control devices and even prosthetic and robotic limbs using their brainwaves.
Now there is a newer arena of BCI research opening up that is even more exciting, but equally as frightening. Most BCI communication is one-way, going from the user to the computer. You think something, the machine does it. But now researchers are working to develop two-way BCIs, ones in which the machine sends signals back to the brain. DARPA recently awarded grants to several university research groups and organizations under its Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program aimed at developing “an implantable neural interface able to provide advanced signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the brain and electronics.”
If successful, efforts like NESD could lead to a whole new way of understanding the biology of the human brain as well as new treatments for patients with a variety of neurological disorders.
It also creates a direct line into the human brain. The seminal anime film Ghost in the Shell already gave us a glimpse of a future in which brains can be hacked, creating illusory worlds around their victims. Just watch this scene and try not to let the fear set in as you imagine this happening to you.
Sure, it's not possible yet, but who knows, it could be. One must also consider that this two-way communication will allow AI and machine learning algorithms to understand us perhaps even better than we understand them. We've already seen AI beating us at some of the world's most complex games. What will happen if the machines decide to start programming us for a change?
[Image source: Manga Entertainment]