Brain Machine Interface (BMI)

Brain Machine Interface (BMI)

Louis Sztayer Edwards
IORMA Researcher

As time passes, we can see our limits for technology grow exponentially, and reach new heights all the time. This is seen through developments in everyday items, such as phones, and cars, but also through things that you wouldn’t see so often, as with the development of things we once thought impossible, like jetpacks.

However, one of the most interesting changes that has come with the continual progress of technology is the way that it is slowly becoming intertwined with ourselves, in the hopes of furthering what it means to be human. We have already seen the likes of this in many forms of prosthetic limbs, whereby we can use technology to replicate the motions of our muscles, when somebody is no longer capable of doing so. But those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ever-closer union between people and technology.

Brain machine interface is the idea of creating a pathway to our brains from an external device, so that information can be relayed back and forth between the two. By doing this we could have a greater understanding of ourselves, as there are still many mysteries of the brain that still allude us, as well us having a greater understanding of what the human consciousness is as a whole. Through its usage, we could slowly also improve the quality of life for those who have suffered serious life changing injuries or are no longer capable of carrying out normal processes of life.

For example, having a prosthetic limb that has a connection to the brain would have a much more realistic and natural feel to the user than a standard one might. There have also been multiple studies through BMI on helping to repair the senses that we experience. For example, there was work done on creating a “bioelectric nose” that would function in a similar fashion to a biological one. ( The bioelectric nose was in fact effective and proved to be sensitive towards different types of odors, showing that, whilst it may be too early right now, in the future, BMI could absolutely help provide replacements for some of the natural human functions. Another example of BMI helping with the human experience, would have to be the long-term development of brain-to-text. There have been many methods of trying to help those with speech loss, and the work through BMI in this area could make a gargantuan difference. Just this year, there was actually a big breakthrough in this area as a group of researchers successfully implemented a form of brain-to-text whereby the subject of the test mentally handwrote individual letters, which were then translated into text. This breakthrough was massive, and the subject recorded a much higher typing speeds than any of the other previous brain-to-text research participants. ( Both of these are examples of how impactful the development of BMI can be in our lives, and how translating the human sensory experience into the virtual can give us a better understanding of ourselves, and how to cure issues that were previously seen as untreatable.

Whilst BMI is making rapid developments in contemporary times, in the past, the idea of it was purely hypothetical, as working with the brain was and still is to an extent, an incredibly complicated task, given the fact of how complex our brains are. To put things into perspective, we’ve yet to see a fully mapped out image of our brains, in fact, there is only one species so far that has had every single neuron mapped out, which is a microscopic worm that has around 302 neurons in its nervous system. In comparison to the human brain, which is estimated to have roughly 86 billion neurons ( as well as, this goes to show how much of a feat mapping out the brain will be, and makes the mapping out of an elephant brain (which is estimated to have nearly three times the amount of a human!)  seem unfathomable, even with the technology we have nowadays.

So, considering much of a mystery the brain is even to this day, working with it decades prior was no easy job at all. One of the very first forms of analyzing the brain and how it works came in the form of something called electroencephalography. The origins for this method of studying the brain came around the mid-18th century, where the relationship between electricity and nerves was first noted in the subject of dissected frogs, by an Italian physicist called Luigi Galvani. Galvani observed that through electrostimulation, the muscles of the corpse of the frogs would react by contracting. This laid the base for many others ahead of him and allowed the study of the brain to get to where it is today. Some, had even tried the same techniques on the corpses of people too, notably Giovanni Aldini – who had used Galvani’s methodism on the corpse of a criminal, and saw similar results. These experiments helped massively with the development of the electroencephalogram (or EEG), as the knowledge of how nerves worked and reacted to electric currents meant that we could use electrodes in order to track and manage these signals. EEG records these signals through wavy lines on a piece of paper, through which doctors can examine the peaks and troughs and compare how the subject’s brain is functioning compared to a healthy one. Electroencephalography was a huge breakthrough, and was helpful not just for neuro analysis, but psychoanalysis as a result of it and, it is through the development of the EEG that have been able to see ideas such as BMI come to fruition.

The future involving BMI and any other brain-involved technologies is rapidly becoming more and more likely, and I believe will continue to become so with further developments in the mapping of our brains. When we can truly understand our brains, from each and every neuron and neural pathways, I think that it will be then when we will be able to utilize its potential in convergence with technology, and that we may see the end of many degenerative disease that have plagued society for so long such as motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s and dementia. We could also start to see full and maybe even partial brain transplants, for those suffering from tumours and brain haemorrhages. I think that the development of the BMI in general shows that we are on the right path regarding research on the brain, and that with continued research, the future for both technology and medical science will look bright.

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