Brain Vision UK The Brief History of Brain Computer Interfaces - Brain Vision UK

The Brief History of Brain Computer Interfaces

April 30, 2014

A brain computer interface, also known as mind-machine interface, is a direct communication interface between an external device and the brain, bypassing the need for an embodiment. The signal directly goes from the brain to the computer, rather than going from the brain through the neuromuscular system to the finger on a mouse.

Brain interface devices used these days require deliberate conscious thought, while prospective future applications are expected to work effortlessly. Present research is focused on non-invasive BCI, unlike the traditional BCI model that requires implanting a mechanical device in the brain, which then tends to control it as a natural part of the body.

BCIs are directed at augmenting, assisting, or repairing sensory-motor or human cognitive functions. It combines technologies from the fields of electrical engineering, computer science, biomedical engineering, and neurosurgery.

How BCI works

What is a Brain Computer Interface?

In the 1970s, research on BCIs started at the University of California, which led to the emergence of the expression brain–computer interface. The focus of BCI research and development continues to be primarily on neuroprosthetics applications that can help restore damaged sight, hearing, and movement. The mid-1990s marked the appearance of the first neuroprosthetic devices for humans. BCI doesn’t read the mind accurately, but detects the smallest of changes in the energy radiated by the brain when you think in a certain way. A BCI recognizes specific energy/ frequency patterns in the brain.

Based on brain imaging technology, such as magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography, BCI looks for patterns of activity in the brain in real time.

The History of Brain Computer Interfacing

Hans Berger’s innovation in the field of human brain research and its electrical activity has a close connection with the discovery of brain computer interfaces. Berger is credited with the development of electroencephalography, which was a major breakthrough for humans and helped researchers record human brain activity  – the electroencephalogram (EEG). This was certainly a major discovery in human brain mapping, which made it possible to detect brain diseases. Richard Canton’s 1875’s discovery of electrical signals in animal brains was an inspiration for Berger. As one of the first common use of brain computer interface technology, EEG neurofeedback has been in use for several decades.

The year 1998 marked a significant development in the field of brain mapping when researcher Philip Kennedy implanted the first brain computer interface object into a human being. However, the BCI  object was of limited function. The only benefit from this development was the use of a wireless di-electrode.

John Donoghue and his team of Brown University researchers formed a public traded company, Cyberkinetics, in 2001. The goal was to commercially design a brain computer interface, the so-called  BrainGate. The company has come up with NeuroPort ™- its first commercial product. Columbia University Medical Center researchers have successfully monitored and recorded electrical activity in the brain with improved precision. According to researchers, NeuroPort™ Neural Monitoring System enabled them to identify micro-seizure activity prior to epileptic seizures among patients.

June 2004 marked a significant development in the field when Matthew Nagle became the first human to be implanted with a BCI, Cyberkinetics’s BrainGate™.

In December 2004, Jonathan Wolpaw and researchers at New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center came up with a research report that demonstrated the ability to control a computer using a BCI. In the study, patients were asked to wear a cap that contained electrodes to capture EEG signals from the motor cortex – part of the cerebrum governing movement.

A number of developments have been taking place in the field. By 2050, it is has been suggested that BCI could become a magic wand, helping men control objects with their mind. The day isn’t far off when man may be able to guide an outside object with their thoughts in order to consistently execute both natural and complex motions of everyday life.


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