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An Introduction to Brain-Computer Interfaces

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You spend~35% of your day for 12 years (~22,950 hours) studying and doing homework. What if you won’t have to do that in the future? You won’t have to spend dragged-out hours learning. Instead, you can spend your time working on implementing what you learned to make an impact and solve the world’s biggest problems. When you want to travel, you could simply download a language in 2 seconds. Illiteracy could be a thing of the past.

The applications are limitless.

Brain-Computer Interface or BCI is the foundation to telepathy (+cyborgs) becoming the new normal. The idea of mind control/telepathy sounds like something out of a sci-fi film. However, by utilizing a technique known as a brain-to-brain interface, it is conceivable. BBI is performed by wirelessly linking two people’s brains and sending real-time brain activity. Electrical signals are the primary means through which brain cells communicate with one another. Linking electrodes to your scalp helps a computer record electrical communication. It then translates them into specific commands like turning left or right or moving forward or backward.

Moving from science fiction to science fact- basic mind-reading, brain-prosthetic controls, and even allowing a person with paraplegia to push his hand has all been made possible. BCIs Challenge the very essence of being a(n) (average) human

Image source: Canva

What are BCIs?

Brain-computer interfacing is a revolutionary technology that connects a brain to external equipment, allowing brain impulses to communicate with or control them without using natural neuromuscular connections. A brain-computer interface (BCI) identifies the user’s purpose by monitoring brain signals, decoding neural activity, and translating it into output commands that help the user achieve their goal. BCI technology can help people whose neuromuscular illnesses or spinal cord injuries have been severely hindered regain lost or degraded functions and boost or augment tasks in healthy people.

In BCI research, a variety of brain signals have been employed to decode user intent, ranging from direct neuronal recordings using implanted electrodes to non-invasive recordings via scalp electroencephalograms (EEG)

Image Source: Canva

Neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) are instrumental in the process of dendrites receiving and axons relaying information. Between neurons, some junctions enable space between the two cells. Check out this article to learn more about the nervous system and brain function.

Neurons communicate with each other through electrical bursts called Action Potentials. They can be processed, analyzed, and detected as electrical signals with a large cluster of neurons. These responses generated by the brain can be harnessed and interpreted by devices, thus allowing direct communication between your brain and a machine. The measured electrical potential is dictated by intraneural transmission. Over time, a study of brain impulses may be reverse-engineered to provide information about our thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Human Brain Waves🌊

Distinct brainwaves correspond to other states of thought or experience. Some of these brain oscillations are more quickly detectable on specific parts of the scalp, corresponding to the details of the brain just below. The brain has many technoscientific regions that correspond to different processes, thoughts, and sensations. Particular oscillations often reflect distinct areas and networks in the brain communicating with each other.

On the scalp, specific oscillations are observed at more than 30 cycles per second (and up to 100 cycles per second!). These cycles, also known as frequencies, are measured in hertz (Hz).

The names of these EEG waves are delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma

1. Delta

“These are the slowest of all brainwaves and are strongest when we are enjoying restorative sleep in a dreamless state. This is also the state where healing and rejuvenation are stimulated, which is why it’s so crucial to get enough sleep each night.” [1]

2. Theta

“Most frequently, theta brainwaves are strongly detectable when we’re dreaming in our sleep (think, the movie Inception), but they can also be seen during daydreaming and meditation. When we’re doing a task that is so automatic that the mind can disengage from it e.g. brushing teeth, showering. Research has also shown a positive association of theta waves with memory, creativity, and psychological well-being.” [1]

3. Alpha

“Alpha brainwaves are some of the most easily observed and were the first to be discovered. They become detectable when the eyes are closed and the mind is relaxed.” [1]

4. Beta

Beta brainwaves are easiest to detect when we’re busy thinking actively. [1]

5. Gamma

“Gamma brainwaves are the fastest measurable EEG brainwaves and have been equated to ‘heightened perception’, or a ‘peak mental state’ when there is simultaneous processing of information from different parts of the brain. Gamma brainwaves have been observed to be much stronger and more regularly observed in very long-term meditators.” [1]

Types of BCIs

EEG/ Non-Invasive

Image Source: Neuralink

Electroencephalography is one of the most prevalent non-invasive BCIs. An electroencephalogram is obtained by putting electrodes on the scalp’s surface to measure brain waves in the neurons.

Wearable headsets embedded with sensors are used to measure oscillations of electric potentials. They can help us analyze emotions and convert thoughts into prosthetic motion. All-in-all they’re pretty convenient and safe to use. Other than the fact that they have low spatial resolution- I.e., their ability to trace the location of signals is relatively low accuracy.

ECoG/Semi-Invasive

Depicts the three recording methodologies of BCIs, primarily distinguished by their location and the advantages and limitations of these devices (Kotchetkov, Ivan S., and Brian Y. Hwang 2)

In Electrocorticography, electrodes can either be implanted above(epidural) or below(subdural) the Dura (outermost layer of the brain).

A strip of electrodes covers a large area, and this helps diversify the range of cognitive studies. Since they’re placed closer to the brain, they’re resistant to noise(the signals don’t have to travel to reach the scalp) and have higher spatial recognition than EEGs.

Invasive

They are of 2 types- single unit and multi-unit. As the names suggest, a single unit invasive BCI can give us information about a single area of brain cells. A multi-unit one gives us data about multiple regions. In this type of BCI, electrodes of varying lengths (1.5vmm-10mm) are placed in the brain.

Though the implant itself doesn’t have many risks, this method isn’t risk-free. It is often used for medical purposes, exclusively, due to the high risks associated with surgical intervention. There’s also a risk of scar tissue formation. This happens when the body reacts to foreign objects and builds scars around the electrodes, which cause deterioration in the signal.

TL; DR

  • Neurons communicate with each other through electrical bursts.
  • These signals can be detected, processed, and analyzed as electrical signals with the help of the Brain-Compter Interface.
  • There are three main types of BCIs- non-invasive, semi-invasive, and invasive.
  • Delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma waves are the five waveform intensities that may be measured.

Citations:

A Deep Dive Into Brainwaves: Brainwave Frequencies ExplainedWe’ve all experienced that magical feeling of being hit with ‘a brainwave’. That moment of newfound clarity, a shift in…choosemuse.com

Hey! I’m a 16-year-old student interested in Brain-Computer Interfaces and Biotech. For queries or discussions, you can contact me via Twitter or LinkedIn. To stay updated with my projects and progress, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter hereChandhana Sathishkumar

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