How Does a Brain Computer Interface Work?

Sunny Samanta

22nd May'21

"The brain can be seen as a complex machine, like a gooey computer." – Robert C. Solomon.

 

A brain computer interface (BCI) is an essential technology humans have begun to embrace. It harnesses the electrical signals produced by brains and amplifies them with the help of a device before sending them to any software that decides how it should control the computer. The brain computer interface is also known as the brain machine interface or the mind machine interface. And while this whole technology may seem so seamless, there is a lot that goes into this process. So, let's continue reading about the brain computer interface (BCI).

 

Brain Electrical Signals

 

How the Brain Produces Electrical Signals?

For those who are not aware, the human brain consists of non conducting tissues. Now, this may surprise a lot of us into thinking, "How a brain that is a non conducting tissue can generate electrical signals. Now, the generation of electrical signals by the brain is possible only through complex chemical reactions that happen when people are in the process of thinking. When the thoughts are produced, the ions start floating in and around the brain's neurons. While this process is happening, the brain remains in a state of delicate equilibrium. As a result of this, thoughts and impulses created by the floating ions cause a change in balance leading to the restoration of the movement of ions manifested in the form of electrical signals.

 

How the Brain Controls an External Computer?

Now that we have learned about how the brain creates electrical signals, it's time to look into how we use it to control computers. To control a computer, detection of the electrical signals from the brain is essential. Once detected, the brain signals need to amplify and then be sent to software to interpret them into corresponding computer action. The most common and reasonable technology used to monitor the electrical signal of the brain is Electroencephalogram (EEG). EEG is typically used by neurologists and is the simplest way to record the brain's electrical output. Also, EEG is the least mysterious.

 

A BCI software is used to collect the passed brain's electrical signal. This software is used to make machine learning (ML) algorithms and trained to recognize EEG readings related to any emotion or action. Once the algorithm tags with the EEG data, the BCI software carries the corresponding commands to control the computer; with this process, one can quickly move the computer's cursor to either right or left simply by thinking about moving the cursor right or left.

 

How's a Brain Computer Interface Useful?

Owing to its relatively new and lesser-known technology, the BCI doesn't have a lot of use at the moment. But as more people get familiar with the BCI technology, it is expected to see a growth in its popularity and usage in various fields. Perhaps, using the BCI to control devices remotely will be the most accessible prospect in the coming future. However, the BCI technology has been used to control robots in hostile environments as well. Besides, this technology can further help us in understanding the functioning of the brain. Significantly, it can help in exploring how the biological neural networks work in the real-time. Given its functionality, the BCI technology can have several implications in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Artificial Neural Network Research and Development.

 

Some of the Real World Applications of BCI Technology

Despite being new and possibly still requiring more development, the BCI technology has already started impacting real-world users. Its users or beneficiaries can be partitioned into three groups that are:

 

  • Individuals with paralyzed or lost neuromuscular control.
  • Individuals still having little neuromuscular control are having limited eye movement and suffer from muscle cramps.
  • Individuals who still have much neuromuscular control but require the BCI technology for performing specific tasks.

 

Now, amongst the three groups, it is still not so clear whether the BCI technology can benefit paralyzed individuals. However, with the proper assessment, issues related to the higher cortical functions, alertness, and attention can be determined. Thus, solidifying the usefulness of this technology.

 

Apart from this, despite all its limitations so far, BCI has already found its place in several areas related to communication, locomotion, movement control, and neurorehabilitation. 

 

 

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A lone wolf by definition, a writer by heart, and a lost star with ambitions to light up the dark both inside and around me, sometimes by immersing myself into books or video games or traveling with a backpack to an uncertain destination believing that life is all about the choices we make and we don't.

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