Brain Computer Interfaces Part 1

(Note this is part 1 of a 2 part series of posts on BCIs)

Our relationship with AI is shaped by the manner and limitation of how we interact with it. Currently this typically through a verbal interaction such as a user might have with Siri on their iPhone. But if we are to augment our consciousness with AI this mode is inadequate.

A BCI is a direct communication path between the brain and an electronic device. The promise of BCI technology is that will become faster, and more intuitive then keyboards or vocal interaction. This would allow AI to be a fluid extension of ourselves. BCI technology exits today but it does not yet have this capability. The two basic categories of BCI are invasive and non-invasive.

Implantation of an invasive BCI is surgical procedure where electrodes are placed through the skull into the brain. This type of procedure is sometimes performed as treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy. However the implanted electrode used for these surgeries is simpler in that it just stimulates the brain rather than facilitating the transfer of information.

Science fiction films like The Matrix depict invasive BCIs as an advanced method to connect to a computer, however there are unambiguous disadvantages to invasive BCIs. Complications can arise from brain surgery such as infection and hemorrhaging. Also typical computer hardware is updated every three to four years. Having frequent brain surgery to update your hardware is impractical and imprudent. Furthermore a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 69% of Americans are opposed to any type of “brain chip implant.”[i] Widespread use of invasive BCIs have many hurdles to overcome. They do have one great advantage. An invasive BCI has the is capable of two-way communication. Signals can be both delivered to deep inside the brain and sent from the brain to the outside world.

[i] Cary Funk, Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac, U.S. Public Wary of Biomedical Technologies to ‘Enhance’ Human Abilities (July 26, 2016)