Brain-computer interface (BCI) technology has been experimented with since the P300 BCI system was developed for scientific study back in 1988. Over the years, BCI technology has transferred from the research laboratory into real-life situations to serve motor-impaired people in their homes as assistive technology. As more research studies are completed on BCI technologies, more individuals with severe disabilities stand to benefit from the studies that showcase both the correct usage and increased spatial resolution that the software can accomplish. Let’s look closer at recent BCI technology neuroscience research findings and the implications it has for real-world applications in the future.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)
Put in simple terms, a brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is software is housed in a hardware unit that allows individuals with speech impairments to communicate. BCI technology works by identifying patterns in brain neuron signals and capturing those signals for use in communication. These signals are captured via several techniques and the data that is captured can be used to develop feature extractions which maps each signal into two distinct sets (effective and discriminant). These signal vectors are used to classify and decode the user’s true intentions that will then be expressed via the BCI device.
There are times that neuroscience research teams are unable to associate the correct brain signals to the appropriate intended communication method due to low spatial resolution of various testing methods. Researchers have been circumventing these low spatial resolutions via the integration of a common spatial pattern (CSP) algorithm to retrieve the component signal which best transduce the cerebral activity for a specific task. This allows researchers the ability to increase their spatial resolution and dive deeper into the brain to weed out abnormal neuron signals and ensure the best results.
One specific brain monitoring method that neuroscience researchers utilize to record the electric activity of the brain is electroencephalography (EEG). The original pioneer of the EEG test, Adolf Beck, developed EEG to monitor electrical brain activity back in 1890. After more than 100 years of brain wave testing with the EEG method, there were plenty of conclusions drawn about the nature of brain waves and neuron activity. It wasn’t until BCI technology began being the source of the research that high-density EEG were developed to capture the brain's neural activity at a higher spatial resolution than ever thought possible from a non-invasive technology.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
The most interesting brain monitoring method that neuroscience researchers use in their studies is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This method studies brain activity via the blood flow changes represented in an MRI brain scan. BCIs that utilize fMRI are known to be much more accurate in their spatial resolution capabilities and sensitivity to localized neuronal processes than EEG methods. Unfortunately, the cost of implementing fMRI and the lack of portability makes its integration much more difficult to study in real-world settings. With time, the costs and portability of this method will surely be much more accommodating to BCI research and could potentially one day allow humans, with the help of their mind-reading AI, to control computers with only their minds.