This economist article gives an interesting look at the forefront of technological advancement in brain computer interfaces, or BCIs. BCIs give humans the capability to perform ‘mind-control’ so that neural activities can signal and stimulate artificial receptors. For example, the article discusses how William Kochevar, a paraplegic uses a BCI in the form of electrodes implanted into his right arm to stimulate his arm muscles to move upon his neural request. These activities amazingly give Kochevar the capacity to feed himself. Although some BCIs like cochlear implants are more widespread (over 300,000 people have them), others like Kochevar’s are much more rare. Most implants are still difficult to make available for the widespread population for various technological, scientific, commercial, and ethical reasons.
Technologically, more advanced BCIs require direct interaction with neurons, which lead to several drawbacks like the necessity for wires that pass through the skull and damaging immune responses. Scientifically, humans still have just scraped the surface in terms of understanding the brain, and we currently have the capacity to only communicate with only a few hundred of the brain’s 85 billion neurons; however, scientists are making progress, and the recent influx of investment in BCIs have helped spur advancement. Commercially, “it takes time, money, and expertise to get medical devices approved.” Likewise, investors will only place value in BCIs that have the most commercial feasibility, limiting potential innovation. Further, ethical problems also arise, like the notion that most individuals who will have access to expensive BCIs will be the financially elite.
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