AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept. Deep learning. Mindfulness.
Brain-Controlled Interface (BCI) technology – or technology that allows us to control our devices with our minds – is very promising. In fact, tech giants and VCs are investing millions of dollars in them. Facebook is so interested in the technology that it spent between $ 500 billion and $ 1 billion in 2019 to buy CTRL-Labs, a company that specializes in empowering people to control computers using their brains. A number of companies have BCI innovations in the basic and laboratory phases. The question is, will it work?
Facebook seems to believe that. Less than a year and a half after signing the contract with CTRL laboratories, the company launched a bracelet product using EMG (electromyography), which is derived from the muscles in the wrist that are controlled by the brain. According to Facebook Reality Labs, the bracelet uses sensors to convert the electric motor’s nerve signals moving through the wrist to the hand into digital commands that could control other devices. The company hopes that this will allow users to control their upcoming augmented reality glasses with minimal hand movement.
However, BCI technology is still in its infancy. Many technologists imagine a world in which writing and writing texts no longer takes place. They paint a picture of a world where technology is seamlessly integrated into our daily lives and we just have to think about what we want or need and it will happen. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it almost is – at least for now.
For a new product to work in the mass market, it must fit well, be of high quality, and work with natural human behavior. The products available on the market do not yet meet the basic requirements.
There are currently three main BCI technologies available: invasive, non-invasive electrical (EEG), and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).
Invasive technologies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink require electrodes to be implanted in the brain. The solution is very expensive and requires complex surgery. It has been tested on fewer than 50 severely disabled people in the past decade, and while it shows potential, it’s years away from a technology most people would or could choose.
Non-invasive electrical (EEG)
This technology has been researched for the past 40 years. Despite many companies working on it, we are no closer today than we were decades ago. It requires electrodes and good electrical contact with the scalp. Technology sees fundamental problems with recording brain signals, the process is complex and chaotic as it requires a conductive gel in the hair for good contact.
Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS)
This is the most profitable technology in my opinion. While it currently requires expensive equipment, it will drop over time. Skin and bones are transparent to near infrared light and offer non-invasive ways to understand and even use the functionality of the brain. The Los Angeles-based Kernel, founded by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Bryan Johnson, uses a cap that resembles a bicycle helmet. It uses a pulsed laser to capture information about photons, including the depth they reach in the brain. One day, the company intends to use its device as a smart assistant to suggest entertainment or food choices based on brain activity.
BCI technology is certainly one of the greatest challenges scientists have faced in a long time, but it’s exciting for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious one is assistive technology for people who have lost use of body parts such as hands, arms, or legs, or who have a health condition. New technologies could enable these people to operate robotic limbs or even regain control of paralyzed body parts.
The mass market could also benefit from technology that allows us to work hands-free. In the next few years, augmented and virtual reality glasses (AR / VR) will be inexpensive and easily available. The more our AR / VR devices become ubiquitous, the less we want to operate them with our hands. Unfortunately, the BCI technology to control these glasses is years away with our minds. None of the existing solutions can be easily adapted to human behavior. Facebook’s armband may be more acceptable than wearing a helmet to move a cursor on a computer screen, but we’re still at the very early stages of BCI.
I firmly believe that once BCI is mature and incorporated into our daily lives, it will revolutionize the world just like the invention of the microchip. It will open new doors for consumers who need technology to survive daily life or for those who simply strive for the next level of perfection. It is exciting. It changes the game.
However, the realist in me believes that building viable technologies and related products will take time and significant scientific innovation. BCI is the ultimate solution, but the roadmap to get there will take several decades. In the meantime, the gap between the future and what is now presents a great opportunity for other hands-free solutions.