Decoding the Human Brain for BCI

Researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs alike are working on developing brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Among them is Elon Musk, who has been exploring the possibility with Neuralink. Brain-controlled devices in the form of prosthetics have already demonstrated they can do more than turn us into interconnected cyborgs: they can also provide life-changing support for those who have lost the ability to use a limb or other part of their body due to injury or illness.

Prosthetics have been around a long time, and over time their design has become less clunky and easier for patients to use. But prosthetics that could be directly connected to the brain wouldn’t just improve mobility and ease of use, they would also drastically improve functionality — perhaps even beyond what would be possible with our limbs naturally.

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How close are we to a digital afterlife?

When Roman Mazurenko was struck down by a car and killed just before his 33rd birthday, his “soulmate” Eugenia Kuyda memorialised him as a chatbot. She asked his friends and family to share his old text messages and fed them into a neural network built by developers at her artificial intelligence startup, Replika.

“I didn’t expect it to be as impactful. Usually I find showing emotions and thinking about grief really hard so I was mostly trying to avoid it. Talking to Roman’s avatar was facing those demons,” she told the Guardian.

Kuyda discovered that talking to the chatbot allowed her to be more open and honest. She would head home after a party, open the app and tell him things she wouldn’t tell her friends. “Even things I wouldn’t have told him when he was alive,” she said.

The chatbot, documented in great detail by the Verge, might be a crude digital resurrection, but it highlights an emerging interest in the digital afterlife, and how technology such as artificial intelligence and brain-computer interfaces could one day be used to create digital replicas of ourselves or loved ones that could live on after death.

It’s a topic that Black Mirror returns to repeatedly, extrapolating from current technologies into characteristically dystopian scenarios where our brains can be read, uploaded to the cloud and resurrected digitally as avatars or robots.

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Magic Leap unveils AR smart glasses

Magic Leap updated its website on Wednesday morning, revealing its highly anticipated augmented-reality smart glasses for the first time.

Billed as the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, the smart glasses feature an array of sensors on the front, connected via a wire to a battery and computing pack designed to be worn on the belt, matching the details first reported by Business Insider earlier this year. A wireless controller is used as input.

Magic Leap’s glasses will integrate computer graphics into the real world, a technology often called “augmented reality” by other companies. Magic Leap calls its technology “mixed reality.”

Magic Leap is calling its glasses Lightwear, the battery pack Lightpack, and the controller is called Control.

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Artificial Intelligence Microchips Will Turn Humans Into Zombies, Says Prominent Neuroscientist

Human beings will become indistinguishable from robots if they allow microchips to be implanted into their brains. That’s according to a claim by Dr. Mikhail Lebedev, a senior neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Lebedev told CNET that improvements in brain implant technology could go awry if human beings start acting like machines.

“It is even possible that “humanity” will evolve into a community of zombies,” he said. “Luckily this is not a problem as of yet.”

Brain implants may sound like something straight out of a science fiction movie but it isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. There are companies working on developing a human brain and computer interface that can make it easier for humans to communicate with computers. One of these companies is backed by none other than Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

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Ethical questions raised by brain-computer interfaces

A recent article published in BMC Medical Ethics explores the ethical aspects of brain-computer interfaces (BCI): an emerging technology where brain signals are directly translated to outputs with the help of machines. Here, two of the authors of the paper tell us more about the applications of BCI, its portrayal in the media, and some of the key ethical issues it raises.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are devices that measure signals from the brain and translate them into executable output with the help of a machine such as a computer or prosthesis. This technology has varied uses, from assistive devices for disabled individuals to advanced video game control.

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Silicon Valley’s race to develop a brain-computer interface

Wentz has been involved with developing electronics for high-speed reading of data emitted by wireless implants. Already, the flow of information that can be collected from a mouse’s brain in real time outruns what a laptop computer can handle. The team also needs a way to interface with the human brain, hence the brain-computer interface. Boyden’s lab has worked on several concepts to do so, including needle-shaped probes with tiny electrodes etched onto their surface. Another idea is to record neural activity by threading tiny optical fibers through the brain’s capillaries, an idea roughly similar to Musk’s neural lace.

More sophisticated means of reading and writing to the brain are seen as potential ways to treat psychiatric disorders. Under a concept that Boyden calls “brain coprocessors,” it may be possible to create closed-loop systems that detect certain brain signals—say, those associated with depression—and shock the brain to reverse them. Some surgeons and doctors funded by another DARPA program are in the early stages of determining whether serious mental conditions can be treated in this way.

Boyden says Johnson’s $100 million makes a big difference to how he and his students view the entrepreneur’s goals. “A lot of neurotechnology has come and gone. But one thing is that it’s very expensive,” he says. “The inventing is expensive, the clinical work is expensive. It’s not easy. And here is someone putting money into the game.”

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Today, prosthetics feel and respond more like real limbs

Robotic limbs used to be a thing of science fiction. Bionic superheroes with chrome suits and body armor, while supercool in comic books, aren’t practical for modern prosthetics.

Advancements in STEM fields – medical and robotics alike – have enabled the creation of a prosthesis that can move by thought. By implanting a brain-computer interface (BCI) into the brain, the brain and the prosthesis communicate, and the prosthesis is thereby controlled by a single signal, according to
Researchers across the world are coming up with ideas on how to best incorporate sensory receptors into the mechanical limbs, so that amputees are able to feel all the same sensations they would have under normal circumstances.

For example, an artificial arm directly connected to the bone, nerves and muscles of a man functions more like a real arm, with range of motion and more precise control, according to, the website for the American Association of the Advancement of Science.

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The Mind-Controlled Bionic Arm With a Sense of Touch

In the first episode of Humans+, Motherboard dives into the world of future prosthetics, and the people working on closing the gap between man and machine. We follow Melissa Loomis, an amputee from Ohio, who had experimental nerve reversal surgery and is going to Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Lab to test out its latest Modular Prosthetic Limb, a cutting-edge bionic arm funded in part by DARPA. Neuro-interfacing machinery is a game changer in terms rehabilitating patients, but what possibilities do these advancements open for the future?

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This newly developed chip could restore movement in people with damaged spinal cords

Researchers develop a new chip which transmits stronger and sharper signals to restore absent bodily movement in people with damaged spinal cords.

If a person suffers a spinal cord injury, they may lose movement in the limbs, but that does not mean that the brain is not able to send electrical impulses, nor that the limbs are not able to receive them, the problem is that the signal is lost when it reaches the damaged spinal cord, so if we manage to indicate another path, the problem would be solved.

With this idea in mind, they have created electrodes that transmit signals stronger and sharper than those currently used, capable of reaching receptors implanted in the extremities to recover lost movement.

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New material could deliver improvements to brain-computer interfaces

Research has been undertaken for quite a while to find a way to help those who suffer spinal cord injuries to regain limb mobility. One such approach has involved the use of a brain-computer interface in the form of an implanted chip which can then record and transmit signals.

Such interfaces typically rely upon electrodes to provide the physical connection with neurotransmitters. At present, thin-film platinum is at the cutting edge as far as electrode materials are concerned. However, longevity has become an issue as thin-film platinum electrodes have been prone to fracture and disintegration over time.

In response to this issue, Sam Kassegne, deputy director for The Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) at San Diego State University (SDSU), and colleagues developed electrodes out of ‘glassy carbon’. One major benefit of this form of carbon is that given its smoothness compared to thin-film platinum, corrosion becomes less of an issue while transmitting electrical signals. Another improvement gained through the use of glassy carbon is its superior carriage properties, with Kassegne saying that:

“You get about twice as much signal-to-noise. It’s a much clearer signal and easier to interpret.”

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