Brain-Computer interface is a staple of science fiction writing. Init's earliest
incarnations nomechanism was thought necessary, as the technology seemed so far
fetched that no explanation was likely. As more became known about the brain however,
the possibility has become more real and the science fiction more technically
sophisticated. Recently, the cyberpunk movement has adopted the idea of "jacking
in", sliding "biosoft" chips into slots implanted in the skull
(Gibson, W. 1984).
Although such biosofts are still science fiction, there
have been several recent steps toward interfacing the brain and computers. Chief
among these are techniques for stimulating and recording from areas of the brain
with permanently implanted electrodes and using conscious control of EEG to control
Some preliminary work is being done on synapsing neurons
on silicon transformers and on growing neurons into neural networks on top of
computer chips.The most advanced work in designing a brain-computer interface
has stemmed from the evolution of traditional electrodes. There are essentially
two main problems, stimulating the brain (input) and recording from the brain
Traditionally, both input and output were handled by electrodes
pulled from metal wires and glass tubing.Using conventional electrodes, multi-unit
recordings can be constructed from mutlibarrelled pipettes. In addition to being
fragile and bulky, the electrodes in these arrays are often too far apart, as
most fine neural processes are only .1 to 2 µm apart.
Pickard describes a new type of electrode, which circumvents many of the problems
listed above. These printed circuit micro-electrodes (PCMs) are manufactured in
the same manner of computer chips. A design of a chip is photoreduced to produce
an image on a photosensitive glass plate. This is used as a mask, which covers
a UV sensitive glass or plastic film.
A PCM has three essential elements:
1) the tissue terminals,
2) a circuit board controlling or reading from
3) a Input/Output controller-interpreter, such as a computer.
The circuit board and computer are often
located outside the skull, to minimize tissue invasion, allow for long-term implantation
and permit the electrodes to be detached between trials.In addition to the ability
to make multiple, closely spaced recordings, PCMs often outperform the traditional
electrodes in a number of electronic measures .
The possibilities of interpreting
EEG data and using it to control computers have been brought to the consumer electronics
front by the IBVA, or Interactive Video Brainwave Analyzer (Nathan 1992). A headband
with four adhesive electrodes sends data through a radio transmitter to a port
The EEG is the filtered and run through a fast fourier transform before
being displayed as a three dimensional graphic. The data can then be piped into
MIDI compatible music programs. Furthermore, MIDI can be adjusted to control other
external processes, such as robotics. The level of control provided by IBVA is
limited at best and the software does not actually interpret the brain's impulses.
Instead, the user must program the software to interpret consciously determined
gross changes in the EEG.
between the brain and computers, either through interpreting EEGs or through recording
directly through PCMs is currently limited by computing strength. Conventional
computers are well suited to processing linear data, but only have limited application
to more distributed processes such as pattern recognition. In order to address
these problems, neural net computers are modeled after the brain's complex system
of weighted synapses.
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