Feature Story

Neurotechnology: From Spirit to Machine

Author | Dr. John Behbahani

Electrical stimulation of neurons and brain regions can be utilized in the future of medical technology to fundamentally change the way we think, interact, learn and feel. This route of biomedical development has the potential to change the course of many existing medical challenges related to the human condition, from curing paraplegia, blindness and treating mental health issues like depression, anxiety and addiction. Furthermore, this technology can even be used to enhance human capabilities beyond natural limitations, to theoretically enable telepathy, memory replay, extravisual senses and the ability to upload and download memories into a server cloud.

Brain computer interfacing or BCI utilizes computer algorithms that translate patterns of neural activity associated with cognitive states into meaningful instructions. BCIs can transmit non-verbal communication into software that can transfer that data across the globe, from one computer to another and into another brain. The implications of this technology are both vast and potentially transcendental. Current developments in BCI technology focus on animal subjects, creating the future possibility of non-verbal human to animal communication. To this end, BCIs could present a technology which could disrupt the agriculture sector when animal-human communication leads to fundamental changes in ethics and the possibility of a disruptive animal workforce that demands pay.

Neurotechnology is also affecting education, and can soon be developed to the point whereBCIs can be leveraged in education to assess measurement of comprehension through direct assessment of brain activity and eye movement. While this is occurring, it will be possible to adapt information to the learner to match their unique learning patterns to accelerate learning. In this manner, it is possible that the 12-year K-12 school cycle will be drastically shortened and individualized. Additionally, neurotechnology could create avenues of intellectual self-discovery which could lead education towards novel problem-solving approaches that resonate with each learners unique thinking approach.

In the context of active and social learning, utilization of BCIs could present a possible way to create an interactive learning approach based on the current emotional and mental state of the learner. This approach can also be leveraged for training in the employment workplace, especially in work environments which require daily learning that is irrespective of the individual’s day to day emotional health and well-being. In an environment where negative social interactions could lead to workplace toxicity, neurotechnology could present an invaluable tool to signal to workers a sign that a colleague is not well; where brain activity can be correlated with social interaction and overall health.

The health of the brain can be adapted or monitored to assess changes in cognitive health for individuals in remote or isolated places, such as for astronauts, to ensure health and safety over long term space exploration. In the face of brain-related morbidities and suffering, this method of utilizing BCIs presents both opportunities to enhance detection and avenues for remediation, but with apparent ethnical and moral challenges which lie ahead. Nonetheless, if BCI technology is embraced and widely applied, this mode of technology can ultimately become an invisible extension of ourselves, empowering us to become capable to connect not only to each other, but to the world around us in unprecedented new ways.

Once BCI is integrated with machine learning, further systems can be created to augment our capabilities in health and well-being beyond our natural abilities; while accelerating learning and combining expertise areas across different disciplines. The realm of education will be fundamentally transformed when individualized adaptive learning is combined with machine learning and BCIs. In the end, the ability to acquire knowledge will be trumped by our ability to focus our enhanced intellectual resource and knowledge on the right problems to direct our attention.