A brain computer interface (BCI) is an external devices that communicate directly to the brain of humans or animals through neuron silicon interfaces. These external devices can either transmit or receive signals to and from the brain which can then be used to restore function or movement to sensory organs or limbs. Furthermore, these external devices can range from simple circuits to advanced silicon chips.
As of today, brain computer interface devices have been successful in restoring damaged sight, movement and hearing. The success of these devices stems from the fact that the brain is able to adapt to brain computer interfaces and treats implant-controlled prosthesis as natural limbs. With the new technologies, it is even possible to augment human capacity in the near future.
One of the applications of brain computer interface technology is neuroprosthetics. This field of neuroscience deals with devices that are used to replace functions of impaired or damaged sensory organs or nervous systems. One of the most popular of these devices is the cochlear implant used in almost a hundred thousand patients to date.
Types of Brain Computer Interface
Invasive Brain Computer Interfaces
Invasive Brain Computer Interface Devices are those implanted directly into the brain and has the highest quality signals. These devices are used to provide functionality to paralyzed people. Invasive BCIs can also be used to restore vision by connecting the brain with external cameras and to restore the use of limbs by using brain controlled robotic arms and legs.
The problem with this type of device though, is that scar tissue forms over the device as a reaction to the foreign matter. This reduces its efficiency and increases the risk to the patient.
Partially Invasive Brain Computer Interfaces
Partially Invasive BCIs, on the other hand, are implanted inside the skull but outside the brain. Although signal strength using this type of BCI device is a bit weaker, partially invasive BCIs has less risk of scar tissue formation.
Non Invasive Brain Computer Interfaces
Non invasive brain computer interface, although it has the least signal clarity when it comes to communicating with the brain (skull distorts signal), is also the safest. This type of device has been found to be successful in giving a patient the ability to move muscle implants and restore partial movement. One of the most popular devices under this category is the EEG or electroencephalography capable of providing a fine temporal resolution. It is easy to use, relatively cheap and portable.
Ethics and BCIs
Of course, the use of BCIs has sparked some debate among people especially since one of its future applications is the enhancement of human capabilities and mind control (brain pacemakers are now successful in treating depression). Nonetheless, this technology has not yet attained its full maturity and is therefore still relatively below the social radar. As of today, this technology is seen more to help much in fighting against disability through prosthetics and as a treatment for neurological ailments such as depression.