BCI: Brain-Computer Interface

Extending the idea one step beyond using gestures to control a computer, what if you could think hard enough to make a computer do something? You could control a robot, communicate with someone as if you both had telepathy, or type up a paper for class without ever touching the keyboard.

The trouble is reading and interpreting brain waves to and then translating that into input a computer can do something with. The human brain is generally a very chaotic place. Electrical discharges are zipping all over the place and chemicals are being transferred into and out of neurons and the spaces between them. In fact, when the brain organizes itself into patterns, some types of seizures are the result. There are differences between the brain waves of different people, which only complicates things.

At first, a brain-computer interface (BCI) was established using an implanted chip. Unfortunately, that results in scar tissue in the brain, which is not helpful. So, the next step was to use electroencephalograph (EEG) information. There has been some success with interpreting the brainwaves and even converting them into a form that can be transmitted to someone else through the internet.

So, even if this technology were ready to go today, what does that mean for education? One obvious application would be adaptive technology for students with various disabilities. A student with an active mind but mobility limitations could control a computer to maneuver around the environment or manipulate objects. A student with autism might find communication easier through a computer representation.

One concern, however, might be the proliferation of even worse couch potatoes. If all someone has to do is think hard enough to make something happen, will they bother to get up?

couch potato Ian Burt c 2006 creative commons

Picture (c) 2006 Ian Burt, retrieved on this date from Flickr Creative Commons

Science fiction writers have played around with brain-computer interfaces before like in the movie Johnny Mnemonic and the novel Neuromancer. In these tales people take advantage of the technology or situations going horribly awry. We can hope for better in the real world incarnations, right?


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