Ideas in Motion

Want to control software voice-free? It's all in the mind

Jan 31, 2022 6:00:00 AM

We've long been fixated on using our bodies to control devices and software, from video game joysticks to iris-scanning security tools. You may only recently have gotten the hang of your voice-activated speaker, but now it's time for the next frontier: controlling devices with your mind.

 The concept of interfacing a human brain with a computer is not new. Hans Berger recorded the first electroencephalogram nearly a century ago, confirming that the human brain emits electric signals. Science fiction began to explore the prospects of the brain-computer interface or BCI, introducing personal computers in the 1980s.

What are BCIs?

BCI technology enables a human brain and an external device to communicate—to send and receive signals. It allows humans to control machines directly without physical limitations.

Non-invasive and invasive BCIs are the two primary types of BCIs.

 Sensors placed on or near the head are frequently used in Non-invasive BCIs to measure and record brain activity. These tools are simple to install and remove, but their signals are often muddled and imprecise.

Invasive BCIs would need to be surgically attached under the skull, going straight into the brain to target specific groupings of neurons. Invasive techniques would undoubtedly result in a considerably clearer and more precise signal between the brain and the device. However, the operations required to install them, like any surgery, would pose significant health hazards.

Now that we know more about BCIs let's look at a couple of recent BCI technology advancements.

 BCI technology offers hope for paralysis patients

 In new research from the BrainGate Consortium, paralyzed patients could use a BCI to control an off-the-shelf tablet device simply by thinking about cursor motions and clicks.

 Three clinical trial participants with tetraplegia used the experimental BCI, according to a study published in PLOS ONE in 2018. This technology used a tiny sensor implanted in the motor cortex to monitor brain activity. The participants could use these devices to navigate through standard tablet programs such as email, chat, music-streaming, and video-sharing apps. Participants were also able to communicate with family, friends, members of the research team, and other participants via text messages. They even went online to surf the web, check the weather, and engage in online shopping. One musician participant even played an excerpt of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

 Controlling a smartphone with the mind

 NextMind, a tech firm, has created a wearable that allows intelligent control of mobile gadgets and cars using the mind. This technology uses wearable sensors to track brainwave activity and allows the user to complete tasks by concentrating or thinking about them.

 In a trade show in Munich this year, the company unveiled a BCI that allowed the real-time control of a vehicle using the mind. When the driver gets inside the automobile, they use NextMind's non-invasive BCI to connect to it. The direct connection between the user's thoughts and the car allows them to execute operations on the dashboard, such as selecting entertainment channels and navigating a car in a virtual world.

 Ethical problems

 As you might expect, there are a slew of ethical concerns and considerations around the usage of BCI technology. When it comes to gathering brain data, there's a lot of room for abuse: Even when utilized with the best intentions, companies may become unduly reliant on brain data to evaluate and monitor users, which has its own set of problems.

 BCIs aren't flawless technology, and we can't predict what kinds of errors or mishaps we'll see as businesses and individuals begin to employ them in the real world.

 Furthermore, much like any other technology, BCIs can be hacked. Hackers can access a BCI headband and manipulate/send electroencephalogram data. All data transmitted by your BCI could also be intercepted and altered by a hacker. A hacker might take your "passthoughts" user credentials and use them to communicate with your gadgets (laptop, car, etc.). These dangers can jeopardize our bodily well-being. It's also possible that your brain data could be stolen and used against you for blackmail.

 How will companies prioritize privacy and data security while using and analyzing brain data, and how will they fulfill the industry's highest standards for protecting customer data? Who will own the acquired data in the end? What are the rights of customers when firms begin to implement these technologies? It's clear that the technology is still far ahead of the legislation and laws required to implement it.

Metaverse-ready technology

 Provided these thorny ethical questions can be addressed, the future ramifications of BCI with our existing social media universe are immense. First, the metaverse could integrate a BCI with other features such as 3D holograms and virtual spaces. By linking the brain directly to digital media, companies could fully immerse the user into the metaverse experience on a level that is difficult for us to comprehend fully.

Topics: technology

Anthony Butler

Written by Anthony Butler