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Brain Computer Interfaces

Bsplayer_capture002_1Every once in a while there is something happening in the field of scientific research that truly boggles my mind.  Something that seems more like science fiction.  Something that has the potential to change the world in a transformational way.

Well, here's one of those "somethings." 

I had the pleasure of meeting the people involved in an amazing company called Cyberkinetics.  Here is a blurb from their website that explains exactly what they are doing.

"Cyberkinetics is a leader in the rapidly emerging field of brain computer interfaces. Cyberkinetics' technology allows for the creation of direct, reliable and bi-directional interfaces among the brain, nervous system and a computer. The development of safe, robust implants for recording from, and/ or stimulating, the brain surface will open the potential to study other complex signals from the brain. Cyberkinetics’ technology platform, called BrainGate™ System, may allow breakthrough applications which leverage the translation of thought into direct computer control. Such applications may include novel communications interfaces for people with motor impairment, as well as the monitoring and treatment of certain diseases which manifest themselves in patterns of brain activity, such as epilepsy and depression."

Bsplayer_capture003_1This isn't biofeedback.  This isn't wiring a computer to muscles.  This isn't using an EEG machine to try and read brainwave patterns.  All of that stuff has been done before, with limited success.

This is implanting a chip directly in the brain that can read the precise neuronal activity of a specific part of the cortex.

They are currently conducting a clinical trial open to permanent residents in the greater Boston/Providence area.  They have specific eligibility requirements if you'd like to learn more.  The principal investigator in this clinical trial is a close friend and colleague of mine, and I had the priviledge to be able to meet with him and the Cyberkinetic team to see firsthand what they're doing. 

Bsplayer_capture004_1Naturally, I initially thought of how amazing it would be to hook up such a device to let someone control their avatar in Second Life or a similar virtual world.  Controlling their virtual world movements and even avatar body language without having to move a muscle.  But the potential is so much more...

What they are doing are taking the first steps to create a truly viable brain computer interface that can read "thought patterns" directly from the mind and translate that into things that a computer can understand.  This isn't going to be something you can buy at the store tomorrow or get installed in your head at a quickie-mart.  But think of the possibilities down the road.  Giving paralyzed people the ability to control their environment.  Maybe even helping them regain control of their limbs or even voices. 

Be sure to check out their video summary of the device as it currently exists in the clinical trial.  It is truly amazing, and should inspire everyone who hopes for a day when people dealing with physical disabilities can be freed from the limitations of their bodies.  To be free to do whatever they can think.
---------------- Update 2/3/05------------------
I just found out about this great article on the history of the whole project.  Great stuff!

--------------- Update 2/6/06 -------------------
Check out this article in MIT's Tech Review about the project..."Implanting Hope.

Posted by John Lester on January 25, 2005 at 02:02 PM in John Prototype's Musings | Permalink

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Posted by: the mascot | Jan 26, 2005 5:08:16 AM

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