Friday, September 01, 2017
The ambitions of Elon Musk and the future of BCI/BMI according to Gerwin Schalk
Neuralink will build a brain computer interface (BCI) or "neural lace" that will eventually "upload thoughts" to the internet but, along the way, deftly heal those with epilepsy, Parkinson's and depression, and restore function to people with stroke and brain injury for good measure. What could Musk's lace possibly look like?
The basic brief for any BCI is to record the electrical activity of brain cells and sometimes squirt back a little voltage to stimulate those same cells. EEG records brain waves from outside the skull, but high fidelity means getting up close, generally by draping an array of 100-200 electrodes over the dura, the brain's hard outer layer, or plunging electrodes directly into the squishy stuff. These deeper brain dives have, already, produced some astounding results.
Deep brain stimulation has helped people with uncontrollable tremor from Parkinson's hold a cup of coffee. In epilepsy, the NeuroPacedevice senses an impending fit and heads it off with a judicious surge of current. A DARPA program culminated in a paralysed woman using her thoughts to control a robotic arm and gently shake hands with an incredulous interviewer. And a February article reports that a woman paralysed with Lou Gehrig's disease used the BrainGate device to type at a record eight words per minute. With her thoughts.
There is, however, a big problem with sticking things in the brain.
"You have an electrode that's hard and artificial, it's made of metal and it's spiky. And on the other side is the brain that's soft, chemical, electrical and pliable. Those two things don't work together all that great," says Schalk, with neuroscientist deadpan.
Brains get traumatised, scar tissue forms around electrodes, the signal degrades, the body rejects the device, and so on.
For more information about BCI/EEG press here.