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What is a Brain Computer Interface?

A brain computer interface is a device that allows people with cognitive or motor limitations to control computers and other devices. BCIs translate brain signals using a variety and recording techniques, a signal-processing algorithm and machine learning. They can be used to control a variety of devices, including the computer monitors that display cursors as well as wheelchairs and robotic arm.

Most BCIs measure activity from the scalp, such as electroencephalographic (EEG) or functional near-infrared imaging (fNIRS) signaling. The signals are captured by a sensor that detects neuronal activity. Software then converts them to operating commands.

In many BCI systems users have to undergo an iterative process of learning how to generate signals that the system recognizes. For instance in a BCI that is designed to type letters, the user has to imagine moving their left or right hand.

The most exciting BCI developments involve implantable or invasible systems that record on the neural tissue instead of on the scalp. These devices are more precise than noninvasive BCIs, but they also require surgical intervention and pose some risks.

Invasive BCIs are still very experimental, and it is critical that patients who undergo this procedure understand the dangers and benefits of this procedure. Security and privacy are also major concerns because BCIs read neural signals that could contain sensitive information regarding health or behavior. Some people oppose the technology for ethical reasons in fear that other people could hack into and control their minds.


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