Body Care

Connect With Your Brain

Brain computer interface

Would you like a brain computer interface (BCI)? Let’s explore.

“People will not use devices to communicate with machines in the future. You will use your mind and it will be direct.” — Thomas Reardon, CTRL-Labs (acquired by Facebook). 

In 2014, NeuroPace (Nasdaq: NPCE) succeeded with an FDA-approved brainwave treatment for adults with drug-resistant focal epilepsy. The Neurospace Responsive Neurostimulation Therapy System is an implantable device programmed to recognize a person’s unique seizure patterns and automatically respond to prevent seizures before they start.

In 2017, quadriplegic racer Rodrigo Hübner Mendes became the first person to drive an F1 car by using only his brainwaves, thanks to an Emotiv headset.

In 2019, a kickstarter campaign featured UDrone, a $297 drone you could fly with your brain. It worked! — although doesn’t seem to have been a commercial success.

In 2020, with technology from Synchron Medical, two paralyzed patients with ALS were able to text, email, shop and bank online through direct thought. As of 2024, Synchron is now running a clinical trial on six patients, conducted under the first investigational device exemption (IDE) awarded by the FDA to a company assessing a permanently implanted BCI. 

“The signals you generate neurologically are the most unique identifier of you. With 30 seconds of recordings, we can identify that person for the rest of their life.” — Thomas Reardon.

Examining, Measuring and Optimizing Your Brain

Standard medical imaging technologies such as functional neuroimaging, and electroencephalography (EEG) recordings are important in studying the brain. There are over 15 companies such as Neuroelectrics selling medical grade EEG devices to analyze and potentially optimize your brain! However, brain computer interface expert Thomas Oxley compares EEG to looking for the surface ripples made by a fish swimming underwater while a storm roils the lake. Potentially better emerging techniques of “seeing” into the brain include:

  • Magnetoencephalography, or M.E.G., which measures magnetic waves emanating outside the skull from neurons firing beneath it.
  • Near-infrared and infrared light to infer brain activity from changes in blood flow.
  • Ultrasonics

We will write more on the opportunity to use technology to analyze your brain in an upcoming Setting Your Health Baseline article. Until then, here are some upcoming ways you can connect with your brain.

Top Brain-Computer Interfaces / Wetware Companies

In 2017, Gartner researchers placed Brain-Computer Interface on their Emerging Technology Hype Cycle Chart with an expectation that the technology was more than ten years from reality. Since then, much has been accomplished more rapidly than expected. Your brain can be augmented today to do some amazing things. For example, brain-speech recognition can predict 97% of what you are saying by listening to your brain signals. Here are more organizations conducting exciting research into Brain-Computer Interfaces:

  • AlterEgo — in the MIT Media Lab by Arnav Kapur, Shreyas Kapur and Pattie Maes
    • AlterEgo is a  non-invasive, wearable, peripheral neural interface that allows humans to converse in natural language with machines, artificial intelligence assistants, services, and other people without voice—without opening their mouth, and without externally observable movements—simply by articulating words internally through what is termed the “inner monologue”.
    • Responses to the user are given through audio, via bone conduction, without disrupting the user’s usual auditory perception, and making the interface closed-loop. 
    • AlterEgo enables human-computer interaction that is like speaking to one’s self. Imagine being able to ask questions in your inner monologue and get answers returned there from the Internet. This is now possible as inner monologue becomes inner dialogue.
    • The wearable system captures peripheral neural signals when internal speech articulators are volitionally and neurologically activated, during a user’s internal articulation of words.
  • CTRL-Labs (acquired by Facebook Reality Labs)
    • Provide a wristband to capture all signals from the brain to your hand so they can digitize your hand movements.
    • Eliminate the need for mice, swipe screens and joysticks and possibly even keyboards. There is no longer a need to touch something to interact with it.
    • In 2024, Reality Labs has added MetaQuest hand controllers which use AI to estimate their position in 3D space accurately to enable mixed reality experiences.
  • DARPA’s Next-generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology Program, or N³
    • $104MM in funding to develop mind-reading capabilities, potentially enabled in part by genetic modification to enhance signal reading.
    • Goals include controlling fleet of drones at the speed of human thought. (although perhaps AI would be better at this than a human)
    • Other researchers are creating cyborg insects, controlled remotely by humans.
  • Emotiv — EEG headsets and earbuds called Brainwear®.
    • Monitor, analyze, visualize and understand brain data and stress levels.
    • Play Emotive Labs Brain Games to test memory, focus and impulse control.
    • Commercially available. Headsets from $999-$1999. Earbuds from $399.
  • Innervace — UPenn spinout.
    • $40MM in funding to engineer living electrodes which merge and connect with brain tissues.
    • Goal of restoring impaired brain functions.
    • Bioengineering approaches to replace lost circuitry, not just cells.
  • Kernel — Funded and led by biohacker Bryan Johnson.
    • Measures brain health and wellness via their neural quantification helmet.
    • Combines both EEG and hemodynamics (blood flow) to analyze cortical activity.
    • Can alert you to consider a different behavior or activity when your:
      • brain has cravings.
      • inhibitory control center is less active.
      • brain is in “zombie-mode” from mindless entertainment.
    • Have determined biomarkers for alcohol impairment.
    • Running a clinical trial to determine biomarkers of aging-related cognitive decline in adults over 55.
  • Koniku — Koniku comes from a Nigerian word that means “immortal.”
    • Actual brain cells on a chip
    • Potential uses
      • Create wetware artificial intelligence. (Wetware are elements equivalent to hardware and software found in a person.)
      • Detect airborne chemicals.
      • New drug testing.
    • 2024 focus is on “smell cyborgs”, implants which enable detection of smells in your environment better than a dog’s nose.
    • Can detect explosives, cancers and more.
  • MIT’s Center for Neurobiological Engineering
    • Focused on reverse-engineering the human brain.
    • Over 2 dozen world-class researchers exploring different areas of neurobiological research in animals and humans.
    • Research led by Edward Boydon has found ways to use electrical frequencies to fire different neurons at different depths in the brain.
  • Muse
    • EEG headband which can sense and detect your attention levels between active and calm.
    • Initially target market was for employers to make sure employees are focused!
    • Can measure your stress levels and allow you to adjust your environment to help calm your thoughts.
    • Commercially available to improve sleep and guided meditation. Subscription prices range from $300-$450 / year.
    • Here’s a thoughtful review on Muse’s product.
  • Neuralink — Elon Musk’s brain computer interface company
    • Record the electrical signals coming from the 86 billion neurons in your brain.
    • Believe that implants in the brain provide the highest level of data quality, enabling advanced capabilities.
    • Aim to enhance the human brain, eventually achieving telepathic communication. 
    • In 2024, can operate a computer or smartphone by simply intending to move.
    • Initiating clinical trials for quadriplegics and those who have lost use of their hands. Here’s the recruitment video.
  • NeuroSky — Consumer-grade EEG headsets for gaming. Over 1 million sold.
    • Play games using only your mind.
    • Watch specially-designed movies and influence the outcome by focusing or relaxing your brain.
    • Gather EEG and ECG biosensor data for:
      • Stress, Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Heart Age, Blood Pressure, Arrhythmia Detection
      • Breathing Index, Fatigue, Motion Sickness, Emotion Intensity
      • Attention, Meditation, Sleep Tracking, Mental Effort
    • Headsets are $130. Most apps are free or under $10. Unfortunately, most reviewers struggle to get it to work. The technology seems outdated and poorly supported.
  • Paradromics — Austin, Texas company.
    • Led by Matt Angle. Raised $33 million in funding in 2023.
    • Highest data rate brain computer interface through monitoring 1600 intracortical data channels.
    • Implants in the the brain to enable those with physical disabilities.
  • OpenWater — led by Mary Lou Jepsen
    • Raised over $55 million to create the Silicon Hospital, a for-profit open source platform where disease and medical conditions can be detected digitally.
    • Combine the best of MRI, infrared and ultrasonics for full brain scanning.
    • Envision a future where the cost of developing treatments is reduced by a factor of 1,000, and the price per treatment can be pennies. Plan to put in the past the current system with new drugs priced at over $1M per dose, and diagnoses costing thousands of dollars delivered by scarce machinery.
    • Products (not yet FDA approved), $100 — $10K depending on quantity):
      • Open Motion 3.0 — Modular platform for measuring Blood Flow Index, Blood Volume Index, Micro-Motion, Oxygenation & more within the body. Multi-user, multi-application, diagnostic platform using low intensity near-infrared light. It uses short pulses of highly coherent laser light and a holographic detection system to measure blood flow, blood volume, micro-motions and oxygenation deep under the tissue surface with unprecedented precision.
      • Open LIFU 2.0 — Platform for multi-user, multi-application, low intensity focused ultrasound therapy.

Digitally Preserving Your Brain

So with brain computer interface solutions making rapid progress, will it be possible digitally to preserve your brain’s memories and artificially recreate your thinking? In one famous experiment, Martine Rothhblatt attempted to recreate his partner as Bina48, a robotic head and artificially-intelligent brain. See what happens when Bina48 meets Siri. Hopefully, other attempts go better for humanity’s sake!

Here are more companies, organizations and researchers who have been working on brain preservation solutions, some scarier than others.

  • 2045 Initiative for brain uploading to make humans immortal. No news since 2016.
  • Nectome
    • Won prizes for animal brain preservation using aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation.
    • Focused on human memory preservation, however require customers to die first.
    • Lost the support of the scientific community because appeared to encourage suicide with slogans such as, “mind-uploading service that is 100 percent fatal.”
    • Initial research shows that memories are preserved using Glutaraldehyde to archive the nanostructure of the brain in perfect detail.
    • Have raised $2MM in grants and additional Silicon Valley seed investments.
    • Have preserved animal brains and sought to begin preserving first human brains in 2023.
    • The technology to retrieve memories from this state has not been invented and will be very challenging.
    • Seems to be out of business as of 2024.
  • Cyran AI — Founder Manan Suri is using nanoscale physics to mimic the brain.
    • Transistors store information as 1s and 0s, however biological synapses which store information in the brain can take multiple states.
    • Emerging non-volatile memory (eNVM) is a potential solution.
  • Scientists Made Snails Remember Something Which Never Happened to Them.
  • Will Machines Ever Become Conscious?

In summary, digital preservation and uploading of your brain appears to be a long way off unless the BCI companies make a major breakthrough.

Thanks for reading this article. As your reward for continuing to focus on your health, please check out Richard Morgan’s brilliant and  imaginative book and Netflix series, Altered Carbon, set in a futuristic world where consciousness can be transferred to different bodies. After reading or watching it, your brain will never think about things quite the same way…

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