Business

How brain-computer-interfaces could improve human health

May 13, 2024
How brain-computer-interfaces could improve human health

A version of this article was originally published in Forbes Technology Council.

In March, I traveled to Austin, Texas to attend SXSW—the annual conference that brings together creatives and technologists for the purpose of building the future. I spent most of my time attending discussions about AI, software in healthcare, and brain-computer interfaces.

The National Library of Medicine explains that brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) acquire brain signals, analyze them, and translate them into commands that are relayed to output devices to carry out desired actions.

Whenever I bring up this topic at a dinner party or when I’m on a professional panel, the first reaction people have is usually shock, followed by a disgusted resistance to anything going in their body.

I can understand where they are coming from. It seems very odd to want to augment your body with something that could alter your abilities.

But what I find fascinating, and what I often share next, is how this technology could help people with disabilities and physical impairments that cause them not to be able to use their limbs, eyes, or eyes.

BCIs first became reality in the 1970s, but are quickly advancing. They’re proving useful for rehabilitation after stroke and other neurological disorders. MIT Technology Review states that “speeding up the rate at which machines can read from the brain is very real, and it is key to some cutting-edge uses of mind-reading interfaces, like allowing profoundly paralyzed people to “speak” via a computer.” And in the future, they might even augment the performance of surgeons or other medical professionals.

To help you understand the industry today, I’ll describe three companies who are advancing this technology.

1. Neuralink

Founded by Elon Musk, Neuralink’s mission is to create a generalized brain interface to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs today and unlock human potential tomorrow.

The company has created the N1 Implant—a fully implanted device that is battery powered and wirelessly charged. With a biocompatible enclosure, it can withstand environmental conditions several times more difficult than those in the human body. It uses low-power chips and electronics to process brain signals, transmitting them wirelessly to the Neuralink Application, which decodes the data stream into human actions.

In March 2024, a paralyzed 29-year-old man named Noland Arbaugh generated a pattern of neural activity by thinking about moving the cursor on his computer screen or moving his hand. The implant then transmitted that pattern of brain signals to the computer, where an AI algorithm interpreted it as a command that moved the cursor. Because the implant purportedly allows a user to control a computer with their thoughts, the company named the device Telepathy.

2. Paradromics

Paradromics is building a direct data interface with the brain to provide technology solutions to unmet medical challenges. Its first clinical application will help severely motor-impaired people communicate, enabling human connection and restoring independence.

The company believes that the future of brain tech lies with direct data interfaces (DDIs)—BCIs that sense the action potentials of individual neurons, providing the high resolution and data rate needed for the most transformative, advanced applications.

More resource-limited than Neuralink, Paradromics operates with a smart, accomplished team from Stanford. And though they’re still pursuing FDA approval, they’re realistic about current capabilities.

3. Kernel

The final company to watch right now is Kernel. The company doesn't necessarily have a vision to enter your brain, but rather has developed a helmet-like device—Kernel Flow—that can detect brain patterns and outputs.

It is leading the way in non-invasive neuroimaging, currently working with a clinical trial by the National Institute of Health to investigate brain activity for those experiencing cognitive declines at the age of 55 and older.

—

Although the idea of augmenting a human body with neural interfaces may evoke shock or resistance, it’s essential to understand the profound impact this technology can have on human health—particularly for individuals with significant neurological disabilities or physical impairments. It’s clear that brain-computer interfaces have potential to restore autonomy and enable communication.

So while these technological developments might sound like something out of a sci-fi story, it’s safe to say we’ll hear more and more about these types of companies and devices as the industry evolves.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
Co-founder & Managing Partner

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