The Current State of Medical Bci Technology

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For ten long years, Scott Routley had been lost. Sure, his family could visit him every day, hold his hand and see his face, but, being in a vegetative state, they were no more aware of each other, than if they had been on distant planets. Or so medical science has believed. But, according to the BBC, on November 12th, 2012, something extraordinary happened. Using brain-computer interface technology, Scott’s doctor was able to ask him questions, and receive coherent answers. Using a combination of techniques, Professor Adrian Owen was able to ask Mr. Routley if he was in pain, and Scott said no. Just like that, one of the most troubling moral questions a family can encounter- that of whether their father, mother, son or daughter is suffering while in a coma, and whether it might be kinder to let them go- was answered. Now, Scott’s case doesn’t provide the answer for other all the other families suffering like his, but it provides insight into one of the most exciting fields of medical technology; Brain-Computer Interface, or BCI. Brain Computer Interfacing is an idea that’s floated around science fiction for decades, serious experiments for years, and medical science only recently, but is still in its earliest stages. So today, we’ll be examining this young technology, by looking first at where it stands today, then its uses in the medical field, and finally, both some exciting and worrying implications. Before talking about the medical applications, and then the future of the science, it’s important to look at Brain Computer Interfacing as a whole. We can do this in two ways, we can look at the history of the study, and then current practices in the field. Like most of modern technology, Brain Computer Interfacing has its roots in the work of Nikola Tesla, who discovered that you could detect the frequency of electronic waves Then, in 1924 Hans Berger used this discovery to measure how electricity and fluids moved in the brain, this according to an April 2012 article published in the Review of Medical Physiology. But it wasn’t until 1992 that we started linking computers with brain activity in a relevant way, called an fMRI, which stands for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Doctors use magnets to look at where the blood is in your brain when given a certain task. The computer interface than reads this information and extrapolates data from it. Then in the early 2000s, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information in September of this year, the idea was expanded to EEG technology, which is more cheaper and easier to obtain. Instead of looking at the blood flow of your brain, an EEG actually measures the electricity flowing through it. An fMRI requires a large apparatus and you have to lie still during the duration, whereas you can get EEG technology with a helmet, or headband. So we see that the history of Brain Computer Interfaces have deep roots in medicine and engineering, we can now look at how researchers and doctors are using these tools today. According to Digital Trends online magazine on October 1st of 2012, the basis of modern BCI technology is pattern recognition theory, which is a branch of computer science. It boils down to teaching machines to recognize that a particular pattern of brain activity means a certain thing. So the information gathered from the aforementioned EEG gets fed to a computer. The computer reads the information, and if it matches a patterns, executes whatever it is the pattern is supposed to mean. Even though the technology is very young, we can already do some damn cool things with it; the Human Media Interaction Group, based in various universities in the Netherlands, has already made games controlled completely by players’ minds. Businessweek of October 22 2012 says that the important advancements now are in making the technology more user friendly and affordable. So we see that Brain Computer Interface technology has a long history, culminating in portable,...
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