Brain-computer interface, or BCI, is a relatively new technology, but it’s already having a huge influence on the technology industry. With the use of the BCIs, we can interact with computers without keyboards, mice, or touchscreens.
When we talk about BCI (Brain-Computer Interface), we often bring up the science fiction film Minority Report and its main character, John Anderton. But Mr. Anderton is a fictional character, and the technology in the movie is pure fiction. Although the movie depicted a technology that allowed people to control computers with their brainwaves, BCI technology, in reality, is much nastier.
Who Invented BCI (Brain-Computer Interface)?
In the last decades, BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) has gradually made its way to the epicenter of the scientist’s interest. There are numerous tools and methods for brain signal acquisition and processing that many scientists contributed to state of the art in this scientific domain. The brain is a very complicated part of a human organ. As we can notice, our brain could be compared to a very powerful complex computer.
Jacques Vidal is a physics professor at the University of Paris-Sud. His background is in quantum mechanics and quantum optics, and he made a breakthrough in the understanding of the brain’s neural coding and its communication mechanisms. His breakthrough was this: the possibility of implementing brain computers. It was 1994 when Jacques Vidal invented the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). He was interested in how we can interface with computers.
Vidal started studying the brain, how it functions, and how we can process information. His focus was to analyze how we humans perceive information through the brain. He developed a digital device in which the user’s head acts as a computer input. The device, the Holographic Brain-Computer Interface, is a film projector that projects images onto the user’s retina.
The device shows the virtual image to the user’s brain instead of showing the user the projected image. The user then has to perform a task like clicking a mouse or pressing a button. Vidal’s headset was patented in 1995, and since then, other neuroscientists and engineers have further developed this technology. Now, BCI is commercially available and is being used in video games, art, music, and other entertainment.
The History of BCI
- 1924: While EEG (electroencephalography) had been employed for decades by psychologists, doctors, and researchers to visualize and measure the rhythmic activity of the human brain, it was only in 1924 that a German neuroscientist, Hans Berger, discovered the human brain’s electrical activity with EEG.
- 1970: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the USA initiated a program in exploring brain communications with the use of EEG. This was more than two decades before IBM first publicized its “Watson” computer system, which beat two humans on Jeopardy!
- 1976: I know that all of us know that the human brain is a remarkable organ. In 1976, it was used to communicate by controlling a cursor over a maze. This achievement was led by a doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology working in UCLA’s Brain-Computer Interface Laboratory: Jacques J. Vidal.
- 1998: This year, we all know that the first implantation of an in-the-skull, non-EEG electrocardiogram lead produced high-quality signals for recording inside the human cortex. This milestone in neuroscience research was done at the California Institute of Technology with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
- 1999: These days, we think that the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) seems like a science fiction gadget, but in 1999, the technology was closer to reality. That year, a computer chip implanted into the brain of a quadriplegic allowed her limited hand movements to be controlled. The chip was powered by electrodes implanted directly into the brain that transmitted data wirelessly to a computer.
- 2002: Team of scientists at the University of Reading in the UK developed a monkey-controlled cursor. The scientists trained a rhesus monkey to use its arms and forelimbs as a mouse to control a cursor on a screen. The scientists told the monkeys to click on an image of a banana, and they were able to control the movement of a cursor. They could even alter the trajectory of the cursor and move it in various directions.
- 2003: In this year, we all saw the study was the first in the research of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). In the study, researchers demonstrated a BCI game to the public. The study showed the game could be used by anyone who has a stroke and is suffering from paralysis.
- 2005: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley were studying how monkeys learn. Their findings were published online, and the paper was picked up by the science publication eLife, which was eventually posted on their homepage. The headline read, “Scientists discover how monkey brain controls a robotic arm.” And, to no surprise, social media went crazy.
The Major Types of BCI Based on Technology
Various types of BCIs have been developed over the years, but currently, most rely on electroencephalography (EEG) and machine learning. This overview offers a high-level introduction to BCI technology, including a discussion of various types of BCIs.
Invasive BCI (Invasive Brain-Computer Interface) is an artificial extension of the human mind that allows us to interact with electronic devices by using our brain. By merely thinking about the right things, we can use our computer to control it. Using an invasive BCI, we can control our computer by thinking. When a thought comes into our mind, the connected device senses the impulse. As for me, if I want to open my computer, I can simply think “A,” and my computer starts working or any other words, letters, and numbers.
Non-invasive BCIs work by using low-frequency electrical stimulation. If we were using it, the electrodes sit beneath our skull on a pair of small headbands, and once they are in place, we simply think about moving our arm—which the brain interprets as an electrical signal—and the arm does as instructed. Non-invasive BCIs have a variety of applications, from controlling prosthetics to allowing paraplegics to communicate via a computer keyboard.
We heard of brain-computer interface or BCI, but have you heard of semi-invasive BCI? The difference between the two is that a non-invasive BCI uses electrodes implanted in the brain, while a semi-invasive BCI uses electrodes that are placed on the surface of the scalp. While non-invasive BCIs are useful for people with disorders like epilepsy, epilepsy can sometimes be caused by other disorders or disorders present in the patient’s background. Using a non-invasive BCI means a person’s background illnesses can go unnoticed, which can lead to misdiagnosis.
We all know that the uses of the brain-computer interface are not only limited to disabled people but also to those suffering from mental retardation, autism, schizophrenia, phobia, etc. This will help them communicate better with the world.