There is no limit to perfection: how neural interfaces help humanity
More than 100 years ago, scientists were interested in the capabilities of the brain and tried to understand whether it was possible to somehow influence it. In 1875, the English doctor Richard Caton was able to detect a weak electric field on the surface of the brain of rabbits and monkeys. Then there were many discoveries and studies, but it was not until 1950 that Jose Manuel Rodriguez Delgado, professor of physiology at Yale University, invented the Stimosiver device, which could be implanted into the brain and controlled by radio signals.
Training was conducted on monkeys and cats. So, stimulation of a certain area of the brain through an implanted electrode forced the cat to raise its hind paw. According to Delgado, the animal did not show any signs of discomfort during such experiments.
And after 13 years, the scientist spentfamous experiment - implanted stimosivers into the brain of a bull and controlled it through a portable transmitter.
Thus began the era of neural interfaces and technologies that can enhance human biological capabilities. Already in 1972, a cochlear implant went on sale, which converted sound into an electrical signal, transmitted it to the brain and, in fact, allowed people with severe hearing impairments to hear. And in 1973, the term “brain-computer interface” was officially used for the first time - a computer neurointerface. In 1998, scientist Philip Kennedy implanted the first neural interface into a patient - musician Johnny Ray. After a stroke, Johnny lost his ability to move. But thanks to implantation, I learned to move the cursor, only representing the movement of the hands.
Following the scientists, the idea of creating a neural interface was picked up by large business corporations and startups. The intention to develop a system that will help manage objects with the power of thought has already been announced by Facebook and Elon Musk. Some have hopes for neurointerfaces - technology will allow people with disabilities to restore lost functions, improve the rehabilitation of a person who has suffered a stroke or a head injury. Others are skeptical of such developments, believing that their use is fraught with legal and ethical problems.
Be that as it may, there are enough large players on the market. If you believe Wikipedia , some of the development has already been discontinued, but the rest are quite popular and affordable.
What is a neural interface and how can it be useful?
Types of Brain Waves
Neurointerface - a system for the exchange of information between the human brain and an electronic device. This is a technology that allows a person to interact with the outside world on the basis of recording electrical activity of the brain - an electroencephalogram (EEG). A person’s desire to perform some action is reflected in the EEG changes, which in turn decrypts the computer.
Neural interfaces are unidirectional and bidirectional. The first either receive signals from the brain, or send them to him. The second can send and receive signals at the same time.
There are several methods for measuring brain signals. They are divided into three types.
- Non-invasive . Sensors are placed on the head to measure the electrical potentials created by the brain (EEG) and magnetic field (MEG).
- Poluinvazivnye . Electrodes are placed on the open surface of the brain.
- Invasive . Microelectrodes are placed directly in the cerebral cortex, measuring the activity of one neuron.
A key feature of the neurointerface is that it allows you to connect directly to the brain. What can this give in practice? Neuro interfaces, for example, are able to facilitate or radically change the lives of paralyzed people. Someone cannot write, move or talk. But at the same time, their brain is quite working. The neural interface will allow these people to perform certain actions, reading intentions with the help of electrodes connected to the brain.
Another option for using the neural interface was invented by American scientists who developed a cyber prosthesis that can improve human memory by 30%. The device generates nerve impulses that help the patient form new memories, remember the faces of relatives. The development is expected to help combat senile dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other memory problems.
In addition to health, neural interfaces can be used for personal development of a person, for work and entertainment, as well as for interacting with others. So, what can neurotechnologies offer in these areas of interest?
Perhaps the most popular area of application for neural interfaces and all kinds of applications is the development of any human abilities. Various trainings, systems for the development of mental abilities, systems for changing behavior, stress prevention systems, ADHD, systems for working with psycho-emotional states, and so on, are devoted to this. This kind of activity even has its own term, “Brain Fitness”.
What is the essence of the idea? As a result of numerous studies, some proven ideas have been formed about how a particular brain activity corresponds to the states of human consciousness. Algorithms for determining the level of mindfulness, concentration and meditation, mental relaxation have appeared. Add to this the ability to read EEG and electromyography (EMG), and as a result we get an idea of the human condition at the moment.
And when you need to learn how to cause a specific psycho-emotional state, a person trains himself with the help of a device to which a neurointerface is connected. There are a huge number of EEG visualization programs and psycho-emotional states, we will not describe them all. Training a person’s call of the necessary state of consciousness is performed using the biofeedback EEG technology (biological feedback based on electroencephalography).
How it looks in practice: parents want to improve their child's academic performance and defeat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). To do this, use a special program (for example, from NeuroPlus), choosing presets in it for training the necessary conditions: mindfulness, concentration, relaxation, meditation, prevention of hyperconcentration. Choose a concentration training program. And they launch it.
The program offers the child a workout in which you need to keep the alpha and beta wave count above a certain level. Waves should not fall below a certain level. At the same time, the video selected by the parents is played in the program window. For example, a favorite cartoon. The child just watches the cartoon, monitors the levels of Alpha and Beta waves and does nothing else. BFB comes into play. The child’s task is to maintain Alpha and Beta levels throughout the workout.
If one of the levels falls below the required indicator, the cartoon is interrupted. In the first lessons, the child will try to consciously return to the desired state in order to watch the cartoon. But after some time, the brain will learn to independently return to this state when it falls out of it (provided that the cartoon is interesting for the child, and the viewing state is “comfortable” for the brain). As a result, the child develops the ability to evoke the required state of concentration, as well as the ability to maintain concentration at a certain level.
It looks scary, but do not rush to get scared and call the guardianship authorities. There are simpler, game-based solutions. For example, Mind The Antfrom NeuroSky. The player’s task is to make the ant push the object toward him in the anthill. But for the ant to move without stopping, you need to maintain a certain level of concentration above a certain mark on the corresponding scale.
When you concentrate on the process, the ant pushes the subject. As soon as the concentration level drops, the ant stops, and you lose time, worsening your result. With each level, the game becomes more difficult, as the required level of concentration increases. Additional distractions also appear.
As a result of regular training, the user develops the ability to maintain a level of concentration and attention on the task, regardless of distracting external or internal factors. Everything is like in sports, it is impossible to get a sports body by going to the fitness center a couple of times or eating a can of protein. Studies in the field of EEG biofeedback have shown that the result of training of this kind appears only after 20 days of regular classes of 20 minutes each.
Neuro headsets also make it possible to have fun. But all games and entertainment applications in parallel are also tools for self-development. When playing games through the neural interface, you use the conscious states of your consciousness to control the characters. And thereby learn to control them.
The multiplayer game Throw Trucks With Your Mind made a lot of noise at one time. Character control is carried out according to the standard first-person shooter scheme, however, you can fight other players only with the help of mental efforts. To do this, the player’s concentration and meditation parameters are displayed on the game’s monitor.
To throw a box, truck, or any other object from the game environment into an opponent, you must lift it into the air with the help of your mental strength, and then throw it at the opponent. You too can “fly in”, therefore, in the skirmish the winner is the one who uses the ability to concentrate and meditate more effectively. Fighting the power of the mind with real opponents was very exciting. Of the more recent games, mention may be made of MyndPlay's Zombie Rush .
Manufacturers offer more relaxed game options. Here, for example, an interesting review of several popular gaming applications at once. Also worth mentioning is MyndPlay Sports Archery Lite.. It is simple: you need to make three archery shots and score maximum points. For each shot you can get up to 10 points. Using the video sequence, the game immerses you in its environment, after which your character can begin to aim at the target. An indicator of the concentration level appears in the player window. The higher the concentration, the closer the arrow will hit the top ten. In the second shot, to enter it is required to enter a state of meditation. In the third shot, concentration is again required. This is how the game demonstrates interesting features of neural interfaces.
In addition to games, there are interactive neural films. Imagine: you sat on a sofa, put on a headset and turned on an interactive film about skaters. At some stage, a moment arises when the skater accelerates and is about to jump. At this point, you must become a skater yourself to concentrate on the jump and keep the level of concentration of consciousness until the character finishes the jump. With sufficient concentration (commensurate with real life and the level that will be needed in reality), the skater in the film will successfully make the jump and the plot will go further to the next interactive fork. If the concentration was so-so, then the skater will fall, and the film will go on a different storyline.
Similarly, the action movie has already been shot.in the style of Guy Ritchie, as well as a number of other films. In fact, the plot and the ending of the film directly depends on your efforts. And it looks very interesting.
Simple and ramified logic of plot development
Application in work
In addition to training and entertainment programs, developers have created a large number of applications designed for professional use. An example is the MindRec program, which was created for medical, sports, ordinary psychologists and psychologists working with representatives of law enforcement agencies.
How is it used? A man puts on a neuro headset, a psychologist launches a program and starts a session. During the session, the following information is monitored and recorded in the computer's memory, namely: the level of concentration, attentiveness, the level of meditation, the raw EEG signal, in several types of visualization at a time, in the range from 0 to 70 Hz. Signals, divided by frequency ranges that make up the spectrum of the main signal. The breakdown is made into 8 ranges: Delta, Theta, Low Alpha, High Alpha, Low Beta, High Beta, Low Gamma, High Gamma. If necessary, audio and video recording of the actions of the patient psychologist.
Recorded material can be reviewed by seeing everything that was displayed in real time during the session. If the psychologist didn’t notice something at once, then during the second study of the session or training, he can study the changes in the wave reactions of the brain, compare them with the audiovisual information. This is a very valuable tool for any specialist in this field.
Another option is neuromarketing. The neuro headset allows you to conduct marketing research, because it shows the emotional response of a person to certain marketing stimuli. This is much more effective, because when interviewing and questioning people are far from always honest in their answers. And neuroscience will help you see the real answer, honest and impartial. Having gathered a focus group and tested using a neuro headset, you can get results that are most consistent with reality.
Interaction with external devices
Another interesting area of work with neuro headsets is the remote control of external devices. Racing games, which allow competition between two, three and four participants, are very popular among children, for example. Here is a well-known example of such games:
Want to indulge in something else? Please, here are other developments that have also become popular.
Puzzlebox Orbit Helicopter A
toy helicopter that is controlled by the power of thought. The standard version allows you to control the flight altitude of the helicopter, but there are many additions that turn this toy into a powerful trainer for brain fitness. The review was on Habré .
The lamp reflects your psycho-emotional state in the form of a glow of a certain color. Ideal for developing meditation skills.
Force Trainer II The
most amusing little thing. Creates a holographic image of the game environment and objects inside a transparent pyramid. And the player, using the commands of the brain, controls these objects.
Mi-mi-bear cat ears have become a hit all over the world. The device is completely self-sufficient and does not require a connection to a computer or smartphone. The user puts on the ears, turns them on and gets the opportunity to demonstrate their mood (psycho-emotional state) by moving these ears. By the way, a similar product, made in the form of a tail , did not become popular even at home, in Japan. Where in this case the headset was inserted, you can think of it yourself.
Neuro headset - entertainment or a useful tool?
While reading the article, it may seem that the neural interfaces and headsets are intended mainly to entertain a person or amuse them with FAC. However, this is completely wrong. A neuro headset, coupled with appropriate software, may well help develop a limb after severe damage, reduce the negative consequences of severe injuries. Therefore, scientists are actively using neurotechnology in order to help people.
For example, in 2016, American scientists from Johns Hopkins University created a neural interface that helps control individual fingers of a biomechanical prosthesis. And a year later, their Austrian colleagues from the University of Graz developed a system for writing music using the power of thought. It is designed for musically gifted people with disabilities.
Specialists from the University of California using the neuro-interface, neuromuscular stimulation and suspension taught a person paralyzed below the waist to walk . And Brazilian researchers, along with colleagues from the United States, Switzerland and Germany, were able to partially restore the spinal cord in patients using the neurointerface, virtual reality and exoskeleton. Developments are also underway to interact with patients with the "locked man" syndrome. The technology will help to identify such patients, communicate with them, and also restore control over the body.
Facebook has begun work on a non-invasive neuro-interface that will help users type without keyboard. Nissan has developed a brain-machine interface to read minds while driving to reduce reaction times. But Elon Musk does want to connect the brain to the computer in order to avoid the capture of the world by artificial intelligence.
Russian companies so far can not boast of a large number of achievements in the field of neurotechnology. However, Rostec recently introduced a pre-production model of a device that will help exchange information between the brain and an external device. The helmet was developed by the Institute of Electronic Control Machines (INEUM) named after I. S. Brook. It is assumed that the neural interface will allow you to control electronic and electromechanical devices: prostheses, vehicles.
What awaits the market of neural interfaces
According to the forecast of Grand View Research , the global market for computer interfaces by 2022 will reach 1.72 billion dollars. Now the main field of application of neural interfaces is medicine, but entertainment areas, as well as the military and industrial sectors, are actively developing. The neuro headset for controlling a combat robot is no longer just the sweet fantasies of tall-faced people in uniform, but a completely solvable task.
Due to the fact that neuro headsets offer an open environment that can be used to create your own software, private neuroprogramming is also developing. For example, the SDK of one of the market leaders, NeuroSky, is available to developers absolutely free. And as a result, there are more and more applications that use the capabilities of this platform.
Note that the initiative of the widespread introduction of neural interfaces and chips for the brain is faced not only with support, but also with criticism. On the one hand, neurointerfaces can improve the treatment of traumatic brain injury, paralysis, epilepsy or schizophrenia. On the other hand, such technologies can exacerbate social inequality.
Concerns are being expressed that for the introduction of electrodes into a healthy person, there is neither a legal nor ethical basis. In addition, the neural interface can make the human brain an object into which governments, advertisers, hackers, reptilians and other personalities who are unlikely to be happy with a normal person will want to penetrate. And in general, the neurointerface and headsets can change a person’s characteristics, affect his psyche and activity as an individual, distort the understanding of people as physiological creatures.
In general, it is clear that neurotechnologies will continue to develop. But when they become truly affordable and even more effective, it is impossible to predict.
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