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What is BCI (Brain Computer Interface)?

Updated on July 15, 2017
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So what exactly is a Brain Computer Interface?

A Brain Computer Interface (BCI), also known as a Brain Machine Interface, is a system interface that opens communication between a person’s brain waves (via EEG) and a computer. Believe it or not research began on BCI’s in the 1970’s, but thanks to increasing technological developments within the last decade or so, the science behind direct human-computer communication (via EEG or EMG) is rapidly becoming more exciting than ever.

EEG vs. EMG

There are two different types of devices used to measure electricity produced from the human body:

  • EEG devices read electrical activity from a brain.
  • EMG devices read electrical activity from muscles.

note: (ECG devices are used to read activity from the heart, but outside the scope of this article).

For EMG devices, technological advances are greatly assisting people with disabilities. Hugh Herr (MIT - biomechatronics), has developed bionic limbs that emulate natural movement and has stated that by the end of this century, disabilities will be a thing of the past. Based on what I've seen and read about his developments, these incredible statements don't seem too far fetched.

EEG (BCI) devices on the other hand are currently being touted as the means to open up telepathic computing. Sound crazy? This technology is actually being rapidly developed, and there are several forums and communities (openbci) for all kinds of topics related to BCI. You can even buy your own BCI system (card and headset) for your own PC for well under $1000.

Elon Musk (PayPal, SpaceX founder) feels so strongly about the superiority of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that he has founding a company called "neuralink" that will help keep humans up to pace by eliminating deficiencies such as speech (it slows us down) by developing computer telepathy!

Hugh Herr at TED

Typical BCI system (for both EEG and EMG)

  • A BCI board (pci - pic above) for your computer such as the Ganglion board ($199) or the Cyton biosensing board ($499). You can even "Daisy Chain" Cyton and Daisy biosensing boards for 16 channels of input ($949). You can use the same openbci board for your EEG or EMG projects.
  • EEG projects: a headset such as the Ultacortex Mark IV EEG headset ($349). Note some of the headsets can created from your 3D printer!
  • EMG projects, grab a few MyoWare muscle censors ($40) or a 30 pack of foam solid gel electrodes ($12)

Computer Telepathy

At first glance, the idea of Computer telepathy (the ability to speak to one's computer directly from the mind) sounds about as distant as flying cars. However, this science has been around since the 70's, and thanks to technological advances and the internet, the science behind this concept is being rapidly developed. So how does a BCI device work?

The brain gives off electrical signals. As it turns out, specific thoughts and actions give off frequencies which can be measured via EEG. Below is a chart (credit: CSU Northridge) which demonstrates the 4 typical frequency ranges that can be measured (via EEG) from one's brain:

Typical Frequencies of Synchronized Brainwaves

Rythm
Frequencies
How Produced
alpha
8-13
Person is relaxed with eyes closed
beta
13-30
Person is alert and attentive
delta
1-5
During normal Sleep after theta
theta
4-8
During normal Sleep before theta and as Alpha diminish
Credit: http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00i/dissfa01/xEEG_lesson.html

The Shark Attack Experiment

Here comes the interesting part. When a person closes there eyes and relaxes, they are certain to give off "Alpha" frequencies. Recently I read about a group of openbci users who linked their BCI equipment up to a remote controlled flying shark (by way of arduino) and each person sitting around this table would take turns sending Alpha waves via BCI to the shark to make it move in their assigned pattern (see below):

Source
Source

Speech can be mapped via specific electrical patterns

Sending Alpha waves to an arduino is impressive and a good example of what some of the openbci users are doing with their own equipment. But now scientists say that a person's thoughts can be read by reading electrical signals from that person's brain. Basically, we give off the same electrical patterns for speech, which can now be analyzed and quantified via BCI technology. In other words, when we think to ourselves, our brain gives off specific, quantifiable electrical patterns for specific speech patterns. And why not?

Hugh Herr and his EMG biomechanical devices can interpret specific electrical signals given off by muscles to aid a person with a prosthetic limb. Users in openbci forums are discussing remote control experiments from their garages utilizing BCI equipment and arduinos, and now silicon valley players such as Elon Musk (Neuralink) are putting some serious money into developing BCI interfaces and Computer Telepathy. DARPA has just invested 65 million dollars for the development of a tiny, integrated (implanted) BCI device, their timeline being just four years away!

Tough to say how far BCI technology will bring us, but one thing is for certain, computer telepathy is just years away from now!

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