It Doesn’t Take A Brainiac to Learn About Brain-Computer Interfaces

Harnessing the power of a technology that has the potential to manipulate us all….

Image from Penn Today

Breaking Down the Nervous System

Contrary to popular belief, the nervous system doesn’t just include the brain, but rather spans the length of an individual’s body. It allows organisms to sense, organize, and react to information in the environment.

Image from Queensland Brain Institute

Bingo! The Brain

Essentially, the brain is divided into two main sections; the limbic system and the neocortex.

Image from Noldus Information Technology Behavioral Research Blog
Image from Rememsee

1. The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is located at the front of the brain and is associated with reasoning, motor skills, higher-level cognition, and expressive language. At the back of the frontal lobe lies the motor cortex, which receives information from various lobes of the brain, and uses it to carry out body movements.

2. The Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe is located in the middle section of the brain and is associated with processing tactile sensory information such as pressure, touch, and pain.

3. The Occipital Lobe

The occipital lobe is located at the back portion of the brain and is associated with interpreting visual stimuli and information. The occipital lobe includes the visual cortex, which receives and interprets information from the retinas of the eyes.

4. The Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe is located on the bottom section of the brain. It is the location of the primary auditory cortex, which interprets the sounds and the language we hear. The hippocampus is also located in the temporal lobe, the portion of the brain heavily associated with the formation of memories.

The Nimble Neuron

The basic functional units of the central and peripheral nervous system are neurons.

Their interactions define who we are as people.

Each neuron is comprised of three basic parts; the cell body, axon, and dendrites. They can be thought of as the trunk, roots, and branches of a tree, respectively.

Image from Lumen Learning

What is a Brain-Computer Interface?

While there isn’t exactly a simple way to put it, a brain-computer interface is essentially a direct communication pathway between an enhanced or wired brain and an external device.

Measure brain activity → extract features from that activity → convert those features into outputs that replace, restore, enhance, supplement, or improve human functions.

The Different Types of BCI’s

BCI’s are either invasive, noninvasive, or semi-invasive, each penetrating into the brain at various levels. Depending on the type of Brain-Computer Interface, the brain signals will be measured from a certain part of the brain.

Image from ResearchGate

EEG

An EEG, or an electroencephalogram, is a non-invasive BCI that detects electrical activity in the brain using electrodes, minuscule electrical conductors, attached to the scalp. It records the brain’s electrical activity from the surface of the scalp, as neurons at the surface of the brain are constantly communicating through electrical impulses.

Image from MedicalNewsToday

Neural Oscillations

EEG data contains rhythmic activity, which reflects neural oscillations, or brainwaves. Oscillations are rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity in the central nervous system and are characterized by their frequency, power, and phase.

Spatial Resolution

The spatial resolution, or clarity of signals, being produced by an EEG is determined by the number of electrodes used. Typically, at least 32 electrodes are used, the most being around 256.

ECoG

ECoG, or electrocorticography, is a semi-invasive Brain-Computer Interface that uses electrodes placed on the exposed surface of the brain to measure electrical activity from the cerebral cortex.

Invasive BCI’s

Invasive Brain-Computer Interfaces, such as intracortical implants, are implanted directly into the brain during neurosurgery. They are either single unit BCI’s, which detect the brain signal from a single area of brain cells, or multiunit BCI’s, which detect brain signals from multiple areas. In addition, the electrodes implanted can have different lengths, often ranging from 1.5 to 10 millimeters.

Where Are We Today?

The consumer BCI industry is growing exponentially, with more than a handful of startups and companies launching unbelievably capable and novel products at increasingly affordable prices.

“Innovation pushing the boundaries of neural engineering.”

Elon Musk’s Neuralink is currently aiming to offer treatments for brain and nervous system disorders, eventually leading to enhancing normally-functioning brains; for example, increasing memory and processing speed, adding a built-in cloud and internet access, expanding our senses, and telepathic communication.

“Stopping seizures at the source”

NeuroPace was founded to design, develop, manufacture, and market implantable devices for the treatment of neurological disorders with responsive stimulation.

“Focus on what matters”

Using EEG sensors, Neurable has collected hundreds of hours of brain-activity to create complex algorithms to understand how the brain handles cognitive load, focus, and distractions.

“Measure and leverage brain data at scale”

Emotiv develops an extensive line of hardware and software headsets to be used by doctors and research professionals alike to help improve healthcare.

“Everything we are, everything we aspire to become, begins with our brain.”

Kernel is capturing memories from the hippocampus, reading them with AI, and “recording” them with up to 80% accuracy. They are currently accepting applications for their first product, Kernel Flow, which is a non-invasive BCI that records real-time, cortical hemodynamics to establish precise patterns of brain activity.

Image from Wi Harper Group

What Is Next For BCI’s?

Brain-Computer Interfaces are revolutionary; and not just because we are connecting the most complex biological thing in the universe to a piece of hardware.

Image from USA Today

TL;DR

  • BCI’s, or brain-computer interfaces, are devices that allow us to convert brain signals into an external output that can replace, restore, enhance, or supplement cognitive function. They establish a direct communication pathway between an enhanced or wired brain and an external device.
  • There are 3 different types of BCI’s: non-invasive, semi-invasive, and invasive.
  • Non-invasive BCI’s are placed on the scalp, semi-invasive BCI’s are placed on the exposed surface of the brain, and invasive BCI’s are placed inside the brain through neurosurgery. Invasive BCI’s are rarely used and come with the biggest risk.
  • The field of BCI’s has been growing over the past few years; beyond Neuralink, we have seen the rise of companies like Kernel, Emotive, Muse, Neurable, Neuropace, and Neurosity, all of which are developing BCI’s for different activities from focus, to sleep, to recording memories.
  • While we might not be able to expect telepathy just yet, we are on a trajectory to make unsurmountable progress towards reducing symptoms or even cure diseases like epilepsy, paralysis, and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as allow patients to regain their senses, such as their sight and hearing

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16 y/o working in healthtech & women’s health | a collection of my thoughts | manasigajjalapurna.com