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Brain Computer Interaface: Edifying Disable People's Life!

Updated on April 5, 2022
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Yusrat is a high school student from Bangladesh. She writes about Science & Technology.

Brain Computer Interface (BCI)
Brain Computer Interface (BCI)

You should have heard of the name of Stephen Hawking, shouldn’t you? This 76 years old CH CBE FRS FRSA was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge is treated as one of the greatest scientists of recent time. Hawking had a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig's disease that has gradually paralyzed him over the decades. Even though he was physically disable, yet he helped the man kind through his new scientific theories and works. But how did he work? His central nervous system’s activities are caught using a computerized technology which is widely known as BCI or Brain Computer Interface! BOOOMB

What is BCI?

Here, Brain-computer interface or BCI is mainly a bio medical technology which is collaboration between a brain and a device that enables signals from the brain to direct some external activity, such as control of a computer cursor or a prosthetic limb. This technology is also known as mind-machine interface, direct neural interface or even synthetic telepathy interface. And immediate goal of BCI research is to provide communication capabilities to the disabled people who are totally paralyzed or ‘locked in’ by neurological neuromuscular disorders. This technology often uses at researching, mapping, assisting, augmenting or repairing human’s sensory motor functions. BCI differs from neuromodulation in that it allows for bidirectional information flow. So it is clear that a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a system that aims to create a direct communication channel between the brain and a computer, with the purpose of transmitting messages and commands. Such systems utilize well defined underlying correlations between certain mental activities and electrophysiological signals associated with the brain.

Running our fingers through the pages of history, all we understand is that the attempt of operating an external device using brain signals have been made by many researchers in last century. At First on 1924 Hans Berger, a German psychiatrist invented electroencephalography or EEG technology. After that, in 1970 brainwave was first used as an input command. 28 years later Philip Kennedy implanted the first BCI object on human being. After that in 2004 researchers found the ability to control a computer using a BCI. But Jacques Vidal, a Belgian electrical engineer, is widely recognized as the inventor of BCI technology in BCI community. Recently, In 2008, Voiceless phone calls are demonstrated (The Audeo – TI developers conference) too.

Non Invasive BCI
Non Invasive BCI

Brain and Interface

Now, before moving to the mechanism of BCI, all we need to know is the relation between the brain and interface. he human brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, and with the spinal cord makes up the central nervous system. The brain consists of the cerebrum, the brainstem and the cerebellum. It controls most of the activities of the body, processing, integrating, and coordinating the information it receives from the sense organs, and making decisions as to the instructions sent to the rest of the body. The brain is made up with billions of brain cell or Neurons. Every time we think, move, feel or remember something, our neurons are at work. Which use electricity for its internal communication. The collaboration of millions of neurons sending signal at once produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in the brain. This small electric signals that zip from neuron to neuron are called as brainwave. There are four kinds of brainwaves – Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta.

And interface refers to a boundary across two systems communication. Unlike a bridge connects two places, Interfaces also link up two systems. In computing, an interface is a shared boundary across which two or more separate components of a computer system exchange information. The exchange can be between software, computer hardware, peripheral devices, humans and combinations of these. So, an interface might work as a connector, used to link a system to other system. Here in this case, the communication between the brain and a device, an electrode chip, implanted into the brain, works like an interface.


Kinds Of BCIs

Mainly, there are 3 types of BCI device. They are

  1. Invasive BCI
  2. Non-invasive
  3. Partially invasive BCI.

Invasive BCIs are implanted into the gray matter. For this BCI, The electrodes are surgically inserted directly into the gray matter of human brain. Though it can obtain high quality signal but Invasive BCIs are prone to scar tissue build up. Again there are Non-invasive BCIs. These BCIs are wearable just as virtual reality devices. Some other examples are EEG, MEG, MRI. At last there are partially invasive BCIs are implanted inside the skull of brain. In this case, electrodes are seen on the brain surface. It obtains better signal and has low risk.


How Does BCI Work?

Now, here is an example of mechanism of BCI technology. Suppose someone wants to say the word ‘bee’. The whole process will be completed in

  1. Signal Acquisition- At the first part of a BCI comprises, the ventral sensory motor cortex receives the message and attempts to send the proper commands to speech organs, but the signal is lost.
  2. Signal Preprocessing - The electrodes intercept the original signals. After that the signals are sent to preprocessing block. Here the signal turns into a suitable form. Complex algorithms are applied to enhance the signal quality to reveal the brain patterns
  3. Decoding/Encoding - The third part is feature extractor, which extracts features from the signals. Then comes pattern recognition part. Here the software matches the brain pattern to an associated sound.
  4. Control and Feedback- At last synthesizer speaks the intended word ‘bee’ as the output command. And in feedback the person can hear his intended word.

In fact there are varies type of application of BCI technology. For paralyzed and physically challenged people, controlling a computer cursor via mental commands is improving the quality of life. Hospitals use non-invasive BCI technology EEG and MRI for diagnosis. Some other application of BCI are the ability of controlling a 3D video game by thought. It calls Neurogaming and also the ability to change TV channel with mind and silent communication in army. But mainly this technology is being used in medical sector for the development of the communication capabilities of totally disable. Recently, in a project named ‘Walk Again’ demonstrates the recovery of the walking ability of the paralyzed or physically challenged people using BCI based technologies.

Further Usage Of Brain Computer Interfacing

So, now the question is where this technology can be used in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, hospitals are now using EEG and MRI for diagnosis. But it is not actually enough. BCI can be used to restore the eye sight, hearing and movement of the paralyzed and physically challenged people. Recently, a Bengali daily called Prothom Alo published an article on Bengali language supported BCI. It may bring out a good change in our medical sector soon. Including the usage of BCI in the development of the state of paralyzed people can bring out an incredible change in their life and in our society too.

Again, this rising technology can be included in our education. As a result the teachers will be able to know how clear the student’s concept is about the studied topic. Though it is costly so that it can only be included in specially children’s education.

But there are many challenges too. Here comes some interesting challenges in this field. For example data is quite complex and noisy and there are lack of proper decoding algorithms also. To way forward, machine learning is been applied for novel decoding algorithm. So, we can hope that in near future BCI will be widely used in overall development of human race. Recently an article in the New York Times reads that China is poised to take the lead in artificial intelligence. We can hope that technology will be considered in those plans.

At last here comes the conclusion. As BCI technology further advances, silicon chips may be implanted to develop a completely computerized simulation of the human brain which may be controlled by the human will. Scientists also predict that from there, super human intelligence won’t be far behind!

© 2018 Yusrat Sadia Nailat


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