Our connection with computers is limited by screens, keyboards, gestural interfaces, and voice commands — constrained input/output modalities. We have very little access to our own brains and as a result organic intelligence is playing a catchup with the artificial intelligence. One way to unleash full potential of a truly symbiotic relationship between our brain and computers is BCI or Brain Computer Interface.
Current BCIs are very crude in nature and implanting them in brain involves intrusive techniques and even then the surface area of contact between the device electrodes and different cortices of our brain is small. Solutions which exist in market is able to help in some neurogenerative diseases such as parkinson’s and elipsey to some extent but yet we have just scratched the surface of BCIs potential.
What needs to be done is to change the design of BCIs fundamentally to make them less intrusive, increase their surface area contact with brain areas such as visual and auditory cortices. This kind of BCI would create a vastly expanded range of contact points for brain function support by artificial systems.
Professor Ken Shepard is a professor at Columbia University and he and his team has been recently funded by DARPA under it’s NSED program with $15.8 million for next four years to build this totally new breed of BCI. The team plans to develop an implantable device with one million channels and get regulatory testing approval within the 4 year period. This is an extremely aggressive timeline by all means, but Professor Ken is very optimistic given the current pace of progress.
To achieve the desired level of advancement in terms of low intrusiveness, high scale of interaction channels and all within the given timeframe , Professor Ken will work in the direction of brain surface level electrode architectures which will do surface level stimulating and recording. This will allow the flexible silicon electronics based chips to be extremely comfortable, lightweight and won’t damage the brain tissues at all.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink and Bryan Johnson’s( Sold his previous payment processing company Braintree to paypal for $800 million cash ) Kernel are solving similar problems of cracking the brain and computer’s interface. If this DARPA backed project is able to deliver the critical piece of technology , then a whole new paradigm of computing will be unleashed and it will create swath of opportunities for companies to build on top of that platform, just how DARPA did with internet in 1980s.