A brain-computer interface is a system that enables a brain to communicate back and forth with some kind of external machine. As such, such systems have a number of potential uses. For example, a brain-computer interface could connect to a camera, thus either restoring or supplementing a person's sense of sight. Likewise, it isn't difficult to imagine people using brain-computer interfaces controlling a wide range of machines, thus opening up an entire world of exciting new possibilities. Due to this, it is no exaggeration to say that brain-computer interfaces could have a trans-formative effect on how we live, though it is still much too soon to make precise predictions about what will and will not happen.
Is a Brain-Computer Interface Even Possible?
With that said, some people might be wondering whether a brain-computer interface is even possible in the first place. After all, there are a lot of popular concepts in science fiction that are very cool but also very implausible given our current understanding of science, with an excellent example being the faster-than-light travel that serves as the basis for just about all sci-fi stories involving more than one system. However, it is important to note that brain-computer interfaces are not one of these concepts, seeing as how they already exist in real life. Instead, the bigger issue is when these systems will be seeing widespread use.
In short, the creation of the brain-computer interface can be traced to the 1920s. For those who are curious, there was a German university student named Hans Berger who chose to enlist in the cavalry, where he suffered a serious accident that could've resulted in him getting trampled by the horses drawing a cannon if it wasn't for the fast action of the driver. Supposedly, Berger's sister had a feeling that Berger was in serious danger, which was why she pressed her father to contact him via telegram to ask about his well-being. The whole incident had such a huge impact on Berger that upon the completion of his cavalry service, he returned to school to study the physiological basis of telepathy.
Suffice to say that doesn't sound like the most promising basis for a huge scientific breakthrough. However, Berger can nonetheless claim credit for discovering the electrical activity of the brain as well as a way to record the electrical activity of the brain, though it wasn't until the late 1930s that he managed to receive widespread recognition because of other scientists managing to confirm his findings. In any case, while Berger didn't create the brain-computer interface, his finding was an important step towards that goal because his creation paved the path for more and more sophisticated ways to measure electrical activity.
Due to this, various parties came up with various systems that could be considered brain-computer interfaces in the subsequent decades. One example was a piece of music called Music for Solo Performer that was released in 1965, which used the measuring of electrical brain activity to play percussion instruments. However, it wasn't until the 1970s that a professor named Jacques Vidal came up with the concept of a brain-computer interface, which was followed up by the creation of such a system that could be used to move a graphical object on a computer screen.
How Close Are We to a Brain-Computer Interface?
As stated, brain-computer interfaces are not a new concept but rather something that has existed for decades and decades. Furthermore, it is important to note that more and more parties have become more and more interested in the concept of brain-computer interfaces, with the result that there numerous examples that can be found out there in the present time.
For instance, while some brain-computer interfaces are non-invasive in nature, others are not, meaning that they must be installed via neurosurgery. This is interesting because it makes for the highest quality signals. However, it comes with a serious issue in that the human body does not react well to a foreign object situated in the brain, thus resulting in scar tissue as well as a gradual weakening of the signal. Still, even though there are serious issues that must be solved, this has produced some remarkable possibilities. In particular, it is worth mentioning that there are ongoing efforts into using such brain-computer interfaces to treat acquired cases of blindness, though so far, the results remain imperfect in spite of some serious promise.
With that said, it is clear that brain-computer interfaces are going to be seeing widespread use at some point in the not too distant future. For proof, look no further than the fact that the FDA has actually issued guidance for the testing of brain-computer interfaces, which makes it clear that the agency believes that they will be seeing more and more use. Something that is bound to make for interesting times ahead.
It is clear that brain-computer interfaces possess immense potential to do good. Currently, they are still very far from reaching that potential, though a wide range of researchers are doing their best to bring our capabilities closer and closer towards it. However, while brain-computer interfaces are packed with promise, their use is also going to raise a whole host of issues and implications, which are worth thinking about sooner rather than later.
For example, most of us tend to be much more unrestrained with our thoughts than with our actions. As a result, it isn't uncommon for us to think things that we don't actually do, whether that happens to be making rude comments or something else altogether. However, if brain-computer interfaces enable us to control things with our minds, what degree of responsibility should be assigned to someone who causes something to happen with their thoughts that they wouldn't have actually done themselves? For the time being, this is nothing but theoretical speculation, but as research continues, it seems safe to say that ethicists and other thinkers are going to have a lot to think about as well as argue about.
Written by Allen Lee
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