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    Brain-computer interfaces

    The next frontier

    an article written by @David Cian on December 09th, 2021


    Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) is a mouthful, so let’s dissect it. A BCI is an interface, that is to say a boundary, allowing for communication between a human’s brain and a computer. That’s not enough of a definition however, since technically your hand and the mouse it’s holding are also an interface allowing communication between your brain and your computer: BCIs focus on shortening the path from brain to computer as much as possible.

    Many events could be mentioned as the inception of brain-computer interfaces, but a commonly mentioned one is Hans Berger’s foundational work in electroencephalography (EEG): in 1924, he invented a way to read the electrical signals on the scalp resulting from the brain’s activity. Since then, BCIs have gone through many iterations, even reaching end consumers. Today, one of the flag-bearers of BCI technology in the private sector is Elon Musk’s Neuralink. As a fun aside, Elon Musk has stated himself in interviews that a video game called Deus Ex, where the protagonist is equipped with neural implants, is his favorite video game, so that’s likely to have played some part in his decision to start Neuralink.

    At a high level, a BCI works as follows. Biosensors, such as electrodes placed on your scalp (for EEG) read (almost always electrical) signals generated by your brain. These signals are decoded into a command (e.g. move the mouse), which is then passed on to a computer to be executed.

    There is a whole slew of related vocabulary surrounding BCI technology: for instance, BCIs are also called brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), to emphasize the more general aspect of the latter. Indeed, the applications of BCIs are virtually endless! They allow you to control robotic limbs, to recover sight or hearing, to control home appliances (e.g. turn lights inside your house on & off with a mere thought) and many other things.

    Today, we find ourselves at the inflection point of neuroengineering: the engineering discipline of interfacing with the nervous system directly. Shrew readers might have noticed that the brain isn’t the full extent of the nervous system and as it turns out, the field of of neuroengineering is much wider than only BCIs, which is a topic we’ll be exploring in our next article.

    Neuroengineering is up there with a couple of other industries, such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence and space exploration, part of the next frontier for mankind, perhaps the 4th revolution: as elegantly baptized in the second iteration of the Deus Ex franchise, the Human Revolution