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Brain Computer Interfaces

#7 of my Tech Predictions for 2022

How close are we to being able to read and augment our Brain?

Would you believe me, if I told you that a monkey named Pager is now able to play Pong, controlling his paddle only with his mind? Or a paralyzed man in his 60s being able to write 18 words a minute using a computer system that turns imagined handwriting into words? These are both results of breakthroughs in the area called Brain Computer interfaces.

On December 23rd. Philip O´Keefe made his first direct tweet with his thoughts. It was also a world’s first and made possible through a BCI implant from the company Synchron. If you think this sounds like something taken directly out of a Science Fiction movie you´re not that wrong. Being able to connect Brains and Computers has been an ongoing theme in movies. Just think about The Matrix. Or Starwars, X-men, and Total Recall.

Typing with you mind is becoming a reality

But in 2022 we are closer than ever to seeing the commercialization of the first simple FDA-approved BCI systems.

Back in 2020, I had a very inspiring conversation in my Charlie Tango Talk Podcast with Sune Alstrup, an early-stage investor in NextMind about the topic of linking Brains and Computers.

The NextMind Dev kit is now available

The French company NextMind is among the world leaders in non-invasive real-time brain-computer interfaces (BCI). Since the interview, they have launched their first product to developers to start creating working prototypes .

The Mercedes Vision AVTR — the first car to be controlled by your mind

One of them is Mercedes who have used the NextMind technology to create the world’s first concept car with a thought-based interface. The idea of being able to control your car with your mind has a long way to go before commercialization. But the Mercedes VISION AVTR is a working demo that can be tried at car fairs around the world.

How does it work?

Brain Machine Interfaces (BMI) and Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) are devices that enable direct communication between the brain and an external device. For example, controlling a prosthetic limb, controlling your mobile phone, or the lighting and door lock in your house.

Since the 70’s the idea of implanting electrodes that translate brain cell activity into data has been studied, tested, and tried out to conquer paralysis, diseases like Parkinson’s, and hearing loss (Cochlear implantations). But it is still quite experimental, and you basically have to drill a hole in people’s heads.

The prototyping of the BCI enhanced Enten headphones from Neurable

A new generation of solutions however is less invasive, being able to read the brainwaves from outside. Like The Nextmind setup, the new BCI enabled headphones from Neurable or the Brain Measurement system from Kernel .

From one-way control to Brain Augmentation

So far the technology has worked as a one-way street: thoughts from the brain control digital interfaces. But what if we could go the other way and ingest new knowledge into our brain?

Then we´re back at the Pong playing monkey. Elon Musk and his company Neuralink are behind that project. And Neuralink believes that the future lies in brain stimulation and augmentation. He argues that this kind of empowerment is already happening with our mobile services: Google Maps, Wikipedia, translate, etc. Now, all we have to do is to connect the brain with the computer to enhance our capabilities.

The Neuralink implant to go into humans in 2022

Musk even argues that it will be our only chance to survive, once AI overtakes the human intelligence threshold. Neuralink aims to help you control your mood, memory, hunger, and thirst feeling and maybe even your speech, mathematical and language skills.

But then we are back to implantations — and much closer to a Matrix scenario with an implanted hardwired chip that communicates with your mobile over Bluetooth, turning humans into a kind of cyborg, which very well could scare the s… out of most people.

That´s not where they are right now, but the plan for Neuralink is to start implanting its brain chips in humans in 2022 starting with people with severe spinal-cord injuries.

BCI demands focus

This leads to relevant worries about ethics. Do we need Neurorights like a right to mental privacy in the future? Is this the gate to next-level surveillance and mind-reading? And what about long-term health issues when you start to tinker with the brain?

While we wait for the opportunity to get a brain upgrade and a direct link to the web, it might be time for companies and UX departments to start getting their hands around this next-level interaction form.

I predict that this area will receive a lot of attention in 2022 due to rapid development. And the NextMind DevKit might be your best, cheapest, and easiest way to get started exploring Brain Computer Interfaces.

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Tim Frank Andersen

Tim Frank Andersen

Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Gadget Freak. + 25 years on the digital and tech scene. Co-founder and CEO at Liveshopper.net. For more info: timfrankandersen.com