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The Informed Brain in a Digital World
Interdisciplinary Research Team Challenges

The Informed Brain in a Digital World Interdisciplinary Research Team Challenge 7:
What are the limits of the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) and how can we create reliable systems based on this connection?

Challenge Summary

BCI includes a wide range of interface and signal processing technologies from direct recordings from brains to electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI. BCI enables a wide range of applications that include helping those with impaired physical function, such as stroke victims, control everyday objects in their environment; analyzing awake and sleep brain states to monitor alertness levels and diagnose brain disorders, and understanding market preferences.

One of the most dramatic advances in recent years is “mind reading,” which uses BCI to decode brain states to reconstruct what a subject is experiencing.  There is also a growing market for computer game and devices that are controlled by brain states (http://www.bcireview.com/).  Wireless technology has made it possible to record from mobile humans.

Another active area of BCI is replacement of lost sensory interfaces.  Cochlear implants were developed in the 1970s and over 219,000 people worldwide have received cochlear implants.  Progress has also been made on retinal and cortical implants to restore sight in blind patients.  Remarkably, blind patients have reported substantial “sight” using a camera to activate an array of electrodes on the tongue, one of the most sensitive sensory surfaces of the body.

Key Questions
What are the technical problems with creating long-term, stable interfaces with brains?

Can two humans implanted with BCI communicate directly with each other? What would be the consequences?

There are many ethical concerns including: Consent, privacy re. mind reading, fear of hype,
personality alteration, risks and benefit.  As with other powerful technologies, BCI can be used for good and bad purposes. What impact will it have on society?

Suggested Reading
Berger TW and Glanzman DL (Eds.). Toward replacement parts for the brain:
Implantable biomimetic electronics as neural prostheses. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, 2005.

Makeig S, Gramann K, Jung T-P, Sejnowski TJ, Poizner H. Linking brain, mind and behavior. Int J Psychophysiol 2009;73: 95-100. (Accessed online March 28, 2012: http://sccn.ucsd.edu/~scott/pdf/IJP08_share.pdf.)

Nishimoto S, Vu AT, Naselaris T, Benjamini Y, Yu B, Gallant JL. Reconstructing visual experiences from brain activity evoked by natural movies. Curr Biol 11 Oct 2011;21(19):1641-6. Epub 2011 Sep 22. (Accessed online March 28, 2012: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(11)00937-7.)