The era of computer interfaces and the brain looms on the horizon


Thomas Oxley has a love-hate relationship with him black mirror. On the one hand, he can appreciate the show’s “gripping” allure. On the other hand, it means facing a deluge of accusations that he is driving humanity’s miserable future.

Oxley is the founder and CEO of Synchron, a company that creates the brain-computer interface, or BCI. These devices work by eavesdropping on signals from your brain and converting them into commands that then perform a movement, such as moving a robotic arm or a pointer on a screen. The implant essentially acts as an intermediary between the mind and the computer.

“[Black Mirror is] Very negative, very miserable. He’s gone into the absolute worst-case scenario… A lot of good things would have made it to this point, he says, referring to episodes of the show demonstrating the use of BCI technology in ethically questionable ways, such as recording and replaying memories. The “good stuff” is what Oxley is trying to do with his company. And on July 6, the first patient in the United States’ Synchron device was implanted at a hospital in New York. (The male patient, who lost the ability to move and speak as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a progressive disease affecting nerve cells – requested anonymity on the grounds that he did not want to promote the device before “testing it pros and cons.”)

The device promises patients the ability to control their PC’s mouse and use it to click. This simple movement can allow them to text their doctor, shop online, or send an email. The digital world has already infiltrated every corner of modern human existence, providing all kinds of services — “but to use them, you need to use your fingers,” says Oxley. For the estimated 5.6 million people living with some form of paralysis in the United States, this access is not always available.

After extensive media coverage devoted to Elon Musk’s company Neuralink BCI, you’ll be forgiven for thinking the technology is a new scientific innovation. In fact, it has been around for two decades. But aside from the Synchron device, the only BCI device approved by the FDA for testing in clinical trials is the Utah Array, a small device made up of a series of electrodes that are implanted in the brain. The transplant requires cutting the scalp and drilling into the skull. “It’s a very invasive thing; it’s not something you do recreationally — unless you’re interested in really weird things,” says Conrad Cording, a computational neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

The real new about the Synchron device, he says, is that surgeons don’t have to open your brain, making it less invasive, and therefore less risky for patients. The device, called the Stentrode, has a grid-like design and is roughly the length of a AAA battery. They are implanted endovascular, which means they are placed in a blood vessel in the brain, in the area known as the motor cortex, which controls movement. The insertion involves cutting the jugular vein in the neck, inserting a catheter in, and feeding the device through it until it reaches the brain, where the catheter opens like a flower when the catheter is removed, implanting itself in the blood. ship wall. Most neurosurgeons are already expediting the basic approach required to insert them, reducing high-risk surgery to a procedure that can send the patient home the same day. “And the who – which It’s the big innovation,” says Cording.

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