April 15, 2024

Brain computer interface technology is at the heart of movies like Ready Player One, The Matrix and Avatar. But outside the realm of science fiction, BCI is being used on Earth to help paralyzed people communicate, to study dreams and to control robots.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk announced in January – with great fanfare – that his neurotechnology company Neuralink implanted a computer chip for the first time in a human. In February, he announced that the patient was able to control a computer mouse with their thoughts.

Neuralink’s goal is noble: to help people who otherwise cannot communicate and interact with the environment. But details is slim. The project immediately raised alarm bells about brain privacy, the risk of hacking and other things that could go wrong.

Dr Steve Kassem, a senior research fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia, says “tons of grains of salt” should be taken with the Neuralink news. This is not the first company to do a neural implant, he says. In fact, Australia is a “hotspot” for related neurological research.

Do patients dream of electric sheep?

A University of Technology Sydney project that received millions in funding from the Department of Defense is currently in its third phase to demonstrate how soldiers can use their brain signals to control a robotic dog.

“We were successful [demonstrating] that a solder can use their brain to issue a command to assign the dog to reach a destination completely hands-free … so that they can use their hands for other purposes,” Prof CT Lin, the director of the UTS Computational Intelligence and BCI Centre, says.

The soldier uses an assisted reality glasses with a special graphene interface to issue brain signal commands to send the robot dog to different locations. Lin says they are working to make the technology more multi-user, faster and able to control other vehicles such as drones.

Meanwhile, Sydney company Neurode has created a headset to help people with ADHD by monitoring their brain and delivering electronic pulses to address changes. Another UTS team is working on the Dream Machine, which aims to reconstruct dreams from brain signals. It uses artificial intelligence and electroencephalogram data to generate images from the subconscious.

And then there are the implants.

Good signal

Synchron started at the University of Melbourne and is now also based in New York. It uses a mesh that is placed in the brain’s blood vessels which allows patients to use the Internet, which sends a signal that works a bit like Bluetooth. People can shop online, email and communicate using the technology to control a computer.

Synchron has developed a brain-computer interface that uses already existing technologies such as the stent and catheter to allow insertion into the brain without the need for open-brain surgery. pic.twitter.com/Cooh77oukU

— CNET (@CNET) September 26, 2023

Synchron has implanted the mesh in a number of patients and is monitoring them, including one in Australia. Patient P4, who has motor neuron disease, had his mesh implanted a few years ago.

“I believe he had over 200 sessions,” said Gil Rind, Sychron’s senior director of advanced technology. “He is still going strong with the implants and works very closely with us.

“He was able to use his computer through the system… As the disease progressed, it’s really challenging to use physical buttons.

“It provided him with an alternative method of interacting with his computer – for online banking, communication with his carer, [with] loved ones.”

Dr Christina Maher at Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Center says Synchron’s technology is “miles ahead” of Elon Musk’s and is more sophisticated and safer because it does not require open-brain surgery. The researchers have also published more than 25 articles, she says.

“With Neuralink, we don’t know much about it.

“My understanding is that a big priority for them is to test the effectiveness and safety of their surgical robots … so they are much more about the robotics side of things, which makes sense from a commercial perspective.”

The need for regulation

However, amid the hype and promise of neurotechnology, there are concerns about who will be able to access the useful technologies and how they will be protected.

Maher says it’s a matter of balancing the need for innovation with proper regulation, while providing access for those people who really need it. She says the “inequality between the haves and have-nots” is being discussed in Australia and worldwide.

skip past newsletter promotion

“When brain-computer interfaces become more common, it’s really going to separate people into those who can afford it and those who can’t,” she says.

Rind says Synchron is focused on those who have the most to gain, such as people with quadriplegia. “We want to expand it as far as we can – we hope we can reach bigger markets and help more people in need,” he says.

A personal, decisive moment for him was seeing the faces of the clinicians, team and family of the first patient who successfully received the implant, he says.

On Neuralink, Kassem warns that there will always be dangers when technology is developed by a company that exists to make a profit. “A cell phone plan for your brain is not what we want,” he says.

“And what if it gets hacked? There is always a risk if it is not a closed system.”

More likely than that, though, is that Neuralink will use people’s data.

“Just like every single app on your phone and on your computer, Neuralink will monitor as much as possible. Everything it possibly can,” says Kassem.

“It will be stored somewhere.”

Protection of brain data

Maher says hacking will remain a risk if devices are connected to the Internet, and agrees that data is a big problem. She says a lot of our social media, biometric and other data is already out there, but that brain data is different.

“While [BCI companies] are subject to the same data privacy laws… the difference is in many people’s minds is that brain data is pretty private, it’s your private thoughts.

“The big picture here is that once we start recording a lot of brain data, there will be an absolute megaton of data out there,” she says.

Kassem says that despite privacy concerns, interacting with the brain holds exciting possibilities.

“We need to remember how powerful and significant the brain is… everything you are now, everything you were, and everything you will be is just your brain, nothing else,” he says.

There are trillions of neural connections in the brain, leading to “boundless opportunities”, he says, quoting the American physicist Emerson Pugh: “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we t.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *