It’s not exactly mind control, in the same sense that had been depicted on a thousand science fiction films and television shows. But scientists at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York have developed a device that will permit a person to operate a computer simply using the power of his or her brain. The device, called a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) was recently demonstrated at the European Research Innovation Exhibition in Paris, France.
The development of this technology has remarkable implications for tens of millions of people who suffer from various kinds of brain diseases and injuries. People who are literally trapped inside their own bodies, unable to move or to speak, now have the hope of communicating with the outside world.
The way it works is that a person wears a helmet with electrodes attached that detect his or her EEG activity. A computer algorithm translates the peaks of brain waves that correspond to certain mental efforts. The wearer of the helmet can highlight a letter displayed on a computer screen, selecting it to build a message. In the beginning, the computer takes about fifteen seconds to recognize a letter. But as the system is adaptive, both the computer and the person using it become more efficient with use through biofeedback training.
Using the Wadsworth Brain Computer Interface, people who hitherto could not communicate with the outside world can now compose text messages, send them as email, and create entire documents. The system can be adapted to include commonly used words, phrases, and even sentences.
Scientists at the Wadsworth Center are already working on other applications for the Brain Computer Interface. A Brain Computer Interface could, for example, help paralyzed people with physical tasks, like operate a motorized wheel chair or a robotic device that can manipulate objects. Other researchers are working on ways to make the Brain Computer Interface easier to install and learn.
Other applications would seem to be a bit more whimsical. Recently a group of musicians in Edinburgh, Scotland gave a performance of improvised music totally generated using a Brain Computer Interface. Others suggest that a Brain Computer Interface could be used to play computer games.
Besides the Wadsworth Center, research into applications for the Brain Computer Interface is being conducted at other institutions, including the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurology in Tuebingen, Germany. Microsoft is also interested in developing Brain Computer Interface technology.
It could well be that in the future that the idea that people once operated computers with a mouse and a keyboard will be considered quaint. In the future, it is possible that Brain Computer Interface technology will not only help the disabled, but the healthy as well to operate machines and manipulate their environment just with the power of the human brain.