microsystem technology inside a computer
Brain-computer interfaces connect technology directly to our brains. Photo by Alexandre

Why are Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) the future and how will it change the way we communicate with our electronic devices and with each other?

Brain-computer interfaces have been around for decades and will change the communication completely in the future. The main focus of BCI research and development has been on neuro-prosthetic applications that can help restore impaired vision, hearing, and mobility.

Many medical applications are invasive and require surgery. For example, retinal implants, which are electronic devices transferring visual information to the brain by stimulating retinal neurons and thereby improving sight for some kinds of visual impairments.

a plastic human brain
Brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) provide the brain with new output channels that depend on brain activity rather than on peripheral nerves and muscles. Photo by Natasha

Another example are cochlear implants, which are electronic devices transferring audio information by stimulating the auditory nerve making deaf people perceive sound. However, the term BCI is mostly used for communication in the other direction, namely to control external devices such as prosthetic limbs through activity in the brain.

More recently, there has been an increasing interest in non-invasive BCIs to enhance non-disabled people. Equipment for non-invasive BCIs is worn outside of the body and requires no surgery. Making it possible for the brain or other parts of the nervous system to communicate with external devices by measuring the electrical activity from outside the body is more difficult because the signals are weaker and there is more noise. But by using machine learning, we have become better and better at understanding and interpreting these signals.

You might also be interested in: Is the creation of new senses possible

All your brain knows about the world are the electro-chemical signals it receives from your senses, and the only way your brain can affect the outside world are through the muscles of your body. However, our brains are plastic and they are not limited to just handling signals from our existing senses, and they are not limited to just being able to control your existing muscles. For example, if you would have a third arm, connected to your body and nervous system in the same way as your existing arms, your brain would be able to learn to handle the signals from your new arm’s sensory cells and learn to control the muscles of your new arm in the same way as it has learned to control your existing arms.

a plasma sending out electornic signals
Neurons send what are known as electro-chemical signals to our muscles. Photo by Josh

The external devices your brain learns to control do not have to involve movement of physical objects in the world. A very interesting area is the communication of information. When you want to send a text message to someone today, you need to pick up your smartphone, open a message app, type a message on a very tiny keyboard, and press a send button. These actions are performed by your muscles and initiated by your brain. When your brain wants to communicate, such as sending a text message, it has to call on your muscles to do so. Wouldn’t it be more convenient if your brain could send a text message without going the detour through your muscles?

Imagine being able to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world by simply thinking. We believe that this is the future of communication. For your privacy, however, it is important that you keep your recorded brain activity on your local devices controlled by yourself and do not export such recordings to huge powerful IT companies. We do not yet know all the information that can be derived from your brain activity and what it can be used for, and therefore you need to be careful and keep it private.

The Xtactor wristband communicates with your brain by stimulating touch nerve cells on your wrist, and uses this as a new channel to send textual information to your brain. We closely follow the research progress in neuroscience and will continue to develop products to simplify our communication with our computer devices and with each other.

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