Mind Reading Technologies: The next frontier of Neuroscience

Mridul Sinha

Our brain has 100 trillion connections of 100 billion neurons joined together and processing billions of bits of data per second.

All this is happening because of Gray matter in our skull that plays a pivotal role in how our body functions and has still many unknowns.

An initiative such as the Human Brain Project is accelerating research to explore our brain and mind.

Such initiatives will be helpful to treat brain and mind-related illnesses and build upon improving cognitive functions.

Scientists had been exploring this field for decades and produced some great results in the process.

Brain-computer interface(BCI) also known as a mind-machine interface(MMI), could help humans upgrade themselves to perform impossible feats which we only hear about in sci-fi fiction.

What is BCI?

The brain-computer interface measures the electrical activity in the CNS, central nervous system, and translates them into actions in the outer world.

BCI can enhance or replace functions that are lost in humans, such as hearing, speaking, or motion.

As the name suggests the connection of the brain with a computer for a particular outcome desired by the subject.

To bid in this field of brain and mind sciences, the private sector companies are developing more efficient BCI systems.

Neuralink

Neuralink chip

A neurotech company founded by Elon musk in 2016, like many other ventures, Musk thinks that BCI is the future of humanity to keep up with AI.

Recent development led by neural link has been working on brain machines interface that is implantable, to help humans effectively connecting brains with a computer device.

Neuralink is trying to perfectly blend artificial intelligence with humans.

Researchers have found that there are two methods to record activity behind the skulls.

Invasive, where electrodes physically touch your brain, implanted through surgery, which is accurate, non-invasive, it steers clear of entering the brain, in turn, less accurate processing the activity.

Musk had tried to combine both and come up with threads with a thickness of 4-6um, which is 1/10th thinner than a human hair.

To implant this delicate thread with a skilled surgeon is impossible, so they developed a surgical robot to do the implanting.

The machine can implement 96 threads that have 32 electrodes in each thread, that’s around 3, 072 electrodes in one brain, what this implies is more accuracy in reading the output from the brain and it’s 1000 times better than most systems in the market space.

The only thing left to do is, it isn’t tested on humans yet, Musk in his announcement said that their BCI system has been tested on monkeys.

Musk believes that if Neuralink’s BCI becomes a reality it could help monitor, possibly treating neurodegenerative diseases.

The artificial implant can help in interacting where neural cabling has died, and also help in recovering physical abilities that have been lost due to stroke.

He’s planning something even bigger by blending humans with AI, Tesla’s CEO wants us to access smartness equally, by democratizing it, in turn, an enhanced human being.

On 29 August 2020, Musk presented a demonstration through live streaming of an hour long. He said, “it’s kind of like Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires”. The physical device that Musk presented to the audience looks about the same size as an R2 coin. Attached to it are threads that house electrical conductors that can be implanted into the brain. To insert it, a piece of the skull is cut out and replaced with a coin-size device. According to the company’s official website, this tiny coin-sized chip can be controlled using an app and can be placed in the brain using human hands. Complete details of how these works are available on the Neuralink website.

But this prospect is still in the process, we don’t know how it’ll end up benefiting humans.

Hope we can see a bright future with Neural link.

Below are the two videos demonstrating Neuralink functioning and control:

  1. In the first video, Musk showing the progress of Neuralink, so far, to the audience.
  2. In the second video, the Monkey name page has a Neuralink chip implanted in the brain.

Pison

Dexter Ang, co-founder, and CEO of Pison technology was working as a trader before, He came to know his mother had ALS, over the next year, he saw her lose the ability to walk, move or feed herself. She was unable to click a mouse for her favorite activities like reading ebooks. He painfully watched her mother’s physical life negatively affecting the digital world interactions she had.

The idea of physical impairment not affecting the digital interactions set forth his mission will change his life forever.

After graduating from MIT 10 years prior as a mechanical engineer, he returned and immerse himself in his work in wearable technology.

Becoming a co-founder and building a business strategy along the way.

Ang today is CEO of Pison technology that helps people interact with the digital interface using neuromuscular sensors.

Just like a watch, it is wearable on the wrist, which Tracks muscles and tendon movements, prison software in turn translates this input into signals to control devices like apps on a phone, manipulation in augmented reality, and machines.

Pison has worked with companies like Microsoft, Google, Mitsubishi in partnership. Focusing on helping people who have disabilities, and working with nonprofits such as the ALS association.

Pison products developed keeping in mind the needs of people in the later stage of ALS.

Pison wearable technology looks like a wristwatch that uses the electrical signals of the brain to communicate with the body nerve, tendons, and muscles. The signals(or biopotential) are observed by the wristwatch and sent to Pison’s phone app that turns into digital instructions.

Pison is a close competitor of Neuralink but Ang believes that Pison differentiates itself with purpose-driven software and a focus on developing end-to-end solutions for specific customer applications.

Understand Pison technology through the CEO itself:

The potential of the tech

Pison first product launch will be a touchless system for phones, users in the air force will be able to interact with maps and communication.

Soon after that, Pison hopes to improve productivity and risk reduction for the workers on factory floors.

Like other players, such as Elon musk’s Neuralink is a tough competitor but Ang believes that their solutions are specific and purpose-driven for the consumers.

People working in construction and industrial sites, rescue operations, and a future for playing a role in advancements of augmented reality.

Their product strategy is to first transform the way people use phones and extend their services to other devices such as robots and machines.

Companies that are making BCI very efficient

Neurable

A full-stack neurotech company that interprets human intent, manipulating the digital world with telekinesis and measuring emotions.

It made headlines in 2017, for building the world’s first VR game controlled using the brain.

Players were tasked to remotely control cars behind the computers with EEG headsets using their minds.

The BCI company raised $6million to work on other projects, like next-gen BCI that has various applications.

developing virtual reality and augmented reality products that can be applied in different settings and work environments, For example, transportation and construction.

Kernel

Kernel’s original goal was to help store memories externally, but they started working on artificially uploading memories to the memory center, that is the hippocampus.

The company was launched in 2017, is a tech startup, and announced that it can enhance human intelligence using a brain microchip.

But the project died prematurely, since then they’re seeking technologies that can activate and measure electric signals accurately.

Recently, the founder of Kernel, Bryan Johnson, has given detailed description about this brain-computer interface.

MELTIN MMI

Attaching bodies with machine parts, Cyborg technology is developed by MELTIN MMI, it examines bio-signals output with accuracy in real-time and analyzes body movement accurately.

MELTANT-α, a robotic model of a hand, can be used by a user to create movements similar to our hands, with added features, such as speed, precision, and flexibility.

The company has server centers that help users control robotic hands remotely or even from overseas.

MELTIN MMI started MELTANT-α as the primary cause, but it changed direction onto other modalities like vision, which is a different ability altogether.

Reference

https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/16/20697123/elon-musk-neuralink-brain-reading-thread-robot

https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-launches-neuralink-to-connect-brains-with-computers-1490642652

https://news.mit.edu/2021/pison-control-0214

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5186786/

www.cs.ucla.edu/~vidal/Real_Time_Detection.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3497935/

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