On Designing a Brain-Computer Interface:
After all, computers were once science fiction, too.
93asw at williams.eduawright at mindvox.com
Note: This is a (very) rough abstract of an academic paper. A short
version of this paper, with technical details edited out, is available on
alt.cyberpunk.tech, and bionet.neuroscience. A full version is also
available. I would also be willing to place it on a site allowing
anonymous ftp, if anyone knows of an appropriate site. It will probably be
posted to mindvox, as well.
A Brain-Computer interface is a staple of science fiction writing. In
itUs earliest incarnations no mechanism was thought necessary, as the
technology seemed so far fetched that no explanation was likely. There
have been several recent steps toward interfacing the brain and computers.
Chief among these are techniques for stimulating and recording from areas
of the brain with permanently implanted electrodes and using conscious
control of EEG to control computers. Some preliminary work is being done
on synapsing neurons on silicon transformers and on growing neurons into
neural networks on top of computer chips.
The most advanced work in designing a brain-computer interface has stemmed
from the evolution of traditional electrodes into multi-channel
miniaturized silicon chip electrodes (PCMs). A current application is
cochlear implants, which restore limited hearing to the deaf by directly
stimulating the auditory nerve. In the relatively near future it may be
possible to use these chips to restore vision and controil robotic
A fundamentally different approach to interpreting output from the brain is
the use of EEGs. According to Wolpaw et al. (1991), "in theory [the]
brain's intentions should be discernible in the spontaneous EEG." However,
the vast number of neurons and the complex structure of the brain make such
interpretation difficult if not impossible. Still, some interpretation is
possible and can be used to control computer events. A system such as this
is available for the Macintosh (the IBVA), which interprets brain activity
into MIDI output.
Further on the horizon, work is being done to synapse neurons directly
onto silicon transformers and to grow neurons into computers. Using such
techniques and combining them with PCMs, may one day allow direct
implantation of information (memories, sounds etc.) into the human brain.
However, the complexity of the brain, potential for abuse and possible
complications make this problematic.