The Carnegie Mellon University team, under principal investigator Dr. Pulkit Grover, aims to develop a completely noninvasive device that uses an acousto-optical approach to record from the brain and interfering electrical fields to write to specific neurons. The team will use ultrasound waves to guide light into and out of the brain to detect neural activity. The team’s write approach exploits the non-linear response of neurons to electric fields to enable localized stimulation of specific cell types.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory team, under principal investigator Dr. David Blodgett, aims to develop a completely noninvasive, coherent optical system for recording from the brain. The system will directly measure optical path-length changes in neural tissue that correlate with neural activity.
The PARC team, under principal investigator Dr. Krishnan Thyagarajan, aims to develop a completely noninvasive acousto-magnetic device for writing to the brain. Their approach pairs ultrasound waves with magnetic fields to generate localized electric currents for neuromodulation. The hybrid approach offers the potential for localized neuromodulation deeper in the brain.
The Rice University team, under principal investigator Dr. Jacob Robinson, aims to develop a minutely invasive, bidirectional system for recording from and writing to the brain. For the recording function, the interface will use diffuse optical tomography to infer neural activity by measuring light scattering in neural tissue. To enable the write function, the team will use a magneto-genetic approach to make neurons sensitive to magnetic fields.
The Teledyne team, under principal investigator Dr. Patrick Connolly, aims to develop a completely noninvasive, integrated device that uses micro optically pumped magnetometers to detect small, localized magnetic fields that correlate with neural activity. The team will use focused ultrasound for writing to neurons.
One thing I was surprised to learn recently was that mentally controlled prosthetics are simply machine learning algorithms trained to interpret the electrical signals and produce physical outcomes. In hindsight that seems obvious but before that I had assumed something more complicated. I think a lot of great stuff could come from this. Especially art. Either generating things that the device observes you find enjoyable or generating music you’re mentally composing could be awesome. Imagery could be great.
Also I expect the medical device manufacturers will most likely join this market eventually and they have a less-than-stellar record of security with their devices. Some company is going to connect it to the internet and regulation will be too glacially slow to stop it.
Perhaps I wasn’t clear but that technology already exists and is in use. It’s much easier to do prosthetics because you can just hook it up to the nerves on former limb stub.
There isn't a need, but if the same thing happens here that happened everywhere else in the tech industry, there will be a motivation for over-the-air firmware updates. If the average person won't install adblock because they don't realize the end result of ad network tracking, why would they object to a prosthetic that records their every move? Time and time again, the public has shown that they have no practical aversion to being creeped on and abused in ways that don't immediately translate to pain or lost money.
Correction, we are going to give away free stuff to plug in their head, with advertising. We'll also sell high end without marketing impulse technology (TM), but that will be a minor sector.
Safety nets should be placed now, not as an afterthough.
Yes, but there is also a large gap between a general purpose AI capable of generating teleportation portals and a device barely capable of discerning electronic noise from the brain signals.
> Safety nets should be placed now, not as an afterthough.
I agree. However:
1. Many of people working on this do read a lot of SF.
2. Initial motivation for BCIs is to bring the dream of being able to walk/talk/interact with the world to people who were deprived from it.
3. The whole purpose of non invasive interfaces is to not need to jack anything in. This is important mainly because there are prohibitive safety nets around anything that goes inside a person's body.
Especially in this case do not overestimate the usefulness of reading brain waves. For example, in absence of disease, it is currently impossible to identify people using their EEG.
This being said, I am somewhat concerned about the writing part, mostly because I have seen experimental protocols which seemed to hand wave quite a lot of potential issues.
Basically, they're too preoccupied with whether they could, and not thinking about whether they should.
A brain computer interface is something that records neural activity in a person, and then decodes that neural activity to allow them to control objects in their environment. When we think about sources of neural information, it's useful to divide them into non-invasive (EEG, fMRI, MEG, NIRS) technology, and to invasive technology (intracortical electrodes, SEEG, ECoG) systems.
Fundamentally, the DARPA grant is about acquiring new sources of neural information. As the article points out, the latter category is happening almost exclusively as people are hanging out in epilepsy monitoring units with nothing better to do, or as part of early clinical trials looking at safety profiles of implanted devices.
Simply speaking, the divide between invasive and non-invasive systems is about the signal-to-noise ratio of neural information. The closer you get to single neurons, the closer you get to the source of neural activity, the higher the signal quality you get to decode with. Consider that EEG systems (the most commonly used non-invasive methods) average neural activity over the range of several 10^-3 to 10^-2 meters, through the attenuation of spinal fluid, dura mater, skull, five scalp layers, and the electrode interface. Electrodes used in modern intracortical BCI systems are 10^-5 meters in diameter.
To my mind, the DARPA announcement is extraordinary -- these technologies have the possibility of upping the SNR for non-invasive methods, and acquiring fundamentally different sources of neural activity. Importantly, the methods seem to have the ability to work at the bedside, without needing very large and very expensive devices (e.g. fMRI, MEG).
Here are some reasons why this would be important:
1) Someone has been admitted to the intensive care unit, and needs a breathing tube on a ventilator for life saving purposes. Some people in this situation are awake and alert. Literature suggests that being intubated and awake is incredibly scary, since you're aware but can't communicate. Having a non-invasive beside method that could decode your thoughts would be a dramatic increase to the person's quality of life, given their temporary stay. Note that eye-trackers may not be feasible, given the amount of stuff in the ICU room, the fact that they're lying down, etc.
2) If you ask people with locked in syndrome them about their priorities for improving their quality of life, the biggest need is improving their ability to communicate (as opposed to spelling boards, or looking up/down to communicate). Note these people cannot use eye-trackers, due to their neurologic condition.
3) Ongoing clinical trials have had volunteers undergo implantation of electrodes into their brain. The devices implanted have been percutaneous (i.e. had a portion go through their skin). These devices have allowed some participants to feed themselves, either using muscle stimulation or through robotic arm control. Not only would having a non-invasive method obviate the need for a surgery, but having a method for "writing into" the brain would provide closed-loop control of the arm/robotic limb they were controlling, putatively increasing the quality of control.
if that’s not a BCI i don’t know what is.
And with those systems given, DARPA is going to try to do better, just externally, by using sound, optics, magnetic fields, etc.?
They are NOT going to put one of their devices anywhere near MY head!
Ah, DARPA has done some good stuff -- they are allowed some big losers!
Old Advice: The first step in good research is to pick a good problem!
It probably won't be real before I die of old age, and I'd certainly let the early adopters find the bugs, but sign me up for version 3.0 or later if I'm still around.
Yup, I agree. Indeed, that's the core goal of my startup, helping people find that stuff -- for a huge fraction of the content, tough to do now.
Sure, but as I mentioned in another response here, eyes are deep into both the design and the construction of the brain. Sooo, super tough to have a better intake channel.
To be fair to DARPA, my guess is that they have no intention of improving on eyes, ears, etc. but just augmenting them. I didn't mention it, but my reaction would be just go ahead and use just eyes and ears but give them, say, a better user interface.
Maybe the optical processing parts of the brain are where they'll inject a lot of the new interfaces. Have you ever had the sensation, when you're really focused on a problem and thinking hard about it, of not being able to see while you're concentrating? To me, it feels like your brain is /borrowing/ the optical lobes for other purposes at that time. I don't have any background in neurology, but it's fun to think about regardless.
Singularity book 3 by Stross?
Holding such luddite views is your right, but the rest of the more transhumanist aligned population can and will leave you behind (and help less abled people along the way).
Sure, the research will likely at least clarify the challenges. For actually being very successful for the military purposes in the four years of the program, I'd say little to no hope.
But where you got me is even if the military goals are not achieved in the four years, maybe there will be some progress for what you mention. And even if there is no such progress, go ahead and spend the money, if only to clarify the challenges also for the non-military hope.
In effect, you have partially made my point: The DARPA program is for healthy people, say, super healthy airplane fighter pilots, each with a $100+ million office. As I noted, for them, they already have eyes, ears, .... And, I didn't mention but obvious, the mammalian visual system, and there fighter pilots are especially good, is deep into the brain and its design so that we can anticipate that nothing just external can hope to compete. Same for hearing. Much the same for speech. But, again, that holds for super healthy fighter pilots. For people without sight, hearing, etc. as you mentioned, the potential is much easier to believe in and much easier to justify whatever the chances.
I don't always laugh at DARPA: (1) They played a constructive role in making TCP/IP real, and now that it has gone commercial, with the rest of the technology of the Internet, it is one of the bigger steps up in civilization. (2) They pushed self-driving vehicles. My view is that for current traffic on current US public roads, self-driving, i.e., without a human right there, is hopeless for a very long time. BUT!!! What DARPA did might actually be good enough for 1000 army trucks charging across a road in a desert in Saudi Arabia as in Gulf War I.