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Brain-Computer Interface: A Fun Experiment or The First Step to Transcendence


How do you control your computers today? Most of them, through a keyboard and a mouse. Lots of computers also come with a voice interface, too - most notably smartphones and smart speakers. The next level of ergonomy, in turn, might not require the use of our hands and voices, only our brains - at least this is what many researchers want to achieve. Soon, computers will be able to read our minds, opening up new means of interaction between man and machine.

BCI research - a very short history

Like in the case many other innovative technologies, research on a brain-computer interface (BCI) began at the UCLA, first founded by the National Science Foundation and later under a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the 1970s. Over the years, increasingly complex interfaces were built, resulting in advanced neuroprosthetic technologies able to restore vision (at least partially), offer patients control over prosthetic limbs, lights, computer cursors, and such. In one experiment, an implanted device helped a teenage boy play Space Invaders with the help of an ECoG (an intracranial interface implanted below the dura mater). Today, BCIs are helping war veterans and disabled patients regain at least partial control over their lives by allowing them to better control their prosthetic limbs - and the research on this topic is far from being over.

From cyborgs to artificial life forms

The work science has done on the development of brain-computer interfaces is amazing but it still pales in the light of the ideas fiction writers have attached to the concept. A direct connection between the human brain and a computer system is expected by fiction writers to augment and expand the capabilities of the human brain, allowing it to download knowledge directly from a central database or even the internet, control electronics with the power of the mind, and take the human body's reaction time out of the equation when controlling high-speed vehicles like airplanes and (perhaps in the future) spacecraft.

Still, one of the most exciting paths in that brain-computer interfaces can open up in front of humans is transhumanism - a movement advocating for the enhancement of humanity using currently available (and future) technologies. Transhumanism sees humans as the first step in a conscious evolutionary process where the capabilities of humans will be enhanced using nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information technology - and one key technology needed to develop some of these is a BCI. One day, one of the most exciting technologies may become possible due to it: mind uploading, or the transfer of a human's entire consciousness, complete with long-term memory and "self", into a computer system that will then run a simulation of the person's brain, thus making it virtually immortal.

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