Exploiting The Human Brain: Where Are We Now?

brain-to-brain and brain-to-machine interfaces

Physicists and Neuroscientists have studied the brain for years with a vision of using the mind for transmitting information to other individuals or devices. Experts in the field of study have prepared an armory of tools to make brain-to-brain and brain-to-machine communication a reality.

Remember the proposed technology by Elon Musk that directly connects electronic devices with the human brain called Neuralink? That was indeed Musk’s most ambitious idea, yet very futuristic.

Well, Neuralink somehow envisions a technology that transmits information through some high-tech telepathy by implanting devices into the brain. Musk believes that brain-to-machine interface is an integral foundation of humanity’s future.

If you come to think of it, the idea sounds too outlandish. Interestingly, this technology somehow exists in today’s medical capabilities. Brain implants are used to assist in the treatment of blind individuals and other neurological diseases.

So far, the closest we have for brain-to-machine interfaces are the advance bionics used for prosthetics. These BICs or brain-computer interfaces interpret brain signals to control limited movement. However, these implants are independent, meaning individuals does not interact with them. Hence, it does not hold any extra capabilities. And Neuralink, being an ambitious idea, aims to offer more.

In the case of brain-to-brain communication, the University of Minnesota passed on a significant milestone in unraveling what is said to be a very far-fetched idea. Researchers created BrainNet which is a social network of minds.

With BrainNet, three people were able to transfer ideas with their minds alone. Researchers used an EEGs or electroencephalogram, capable of reading brain activity, and a TMS that acts as a receiver. The research goes like this using the game Tetris:

Two individuals see the falling blocks, and they either decide to rotate or not to rotate. The EEGs sends the signal to the TMS, and the third person (sees only the other half of the screen without the falling blocks) will control the movement. In a sense, BrainNet paves the way for more complex networks.

In an interview with Andrea Stocco of the University of Minnesota, BrainNet is not far away in extending through the internet. The goal for BrainNet is to create a cloud-based brain-to-brain interface network which is globally operable through the internet. Hence, enables cloud-based interactions between minds on a global scale.

Now, the big question is, where will all of these lead to? Is this exploitation to the human brain and using it as a network for a magnitude of ways be even possible?

Well, its possibilities is a matter of debate. Undeniably, the technology behind brain-to-brain and brain-to-machine interfaces have progressed through the years. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. But, its probable contribution to society (if perfected) is endless.

Take this technology called BrainGate2 as an example. The system uses an array of microelectrodes implanted into the region of the brain that controls voluntary movements or the motor cortex. The device decodes neural signals and converts them into computer actions. Participants need to think of a digital activity like browsing, sending email, or whatever basic commands. Then, a virtual mouse picks up the command and perform it on a paired tablet.

Patients with paralysis were able to order groceries online, chat with friends, send email, scroll up and down, and browse the internet using BrainGate2. Even though there are significant avenues that need more improvement like spelling and more complex browsing commands, it gives patients a life through mobile devices.

The human brain is fantastically complex on its own. Transmission of data from one mind to the other or one thought to software remains an ambiguous idea that one doesn’t even know where to begin.

It is a fascinating idea to exploit the human brain further and develop tools to improve and introduce new medical ventures, widen human communication on a global scale, move businesses to more profound ways, and increase human storage and processing power.

This is, indeed, futuristic science. But where will this all lead to? The answer is undetermined.

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