For the first time in history, researchers have connected the human brain to the internet. The invention links a small Raspberry Pi computer to a headset with 14 nodes that correspond to different parts of the brain. Each brain wave can be monitored on a screen. In the future, this technology could be used to transfer information back and forth between mind and computer.
“Brainternet” came about as the fourth year project of biomedical students Jemma-Faye Chait and Danielle Winter from the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering in Johannesburg, South Africa. The students were supervised by Wits professor Adam Pantanowitz.
According to Pantanowitz, the technology is much less scary than it sounds. “Brainternet is a new frontier in brain-computer interface systems. There is a lack of easily understood data about how a human brain works and processes information. Brainternet seeks to simplify a person’s understanding of their own brain and the brains of others. It does this through continuous monitoring of brain activity as well as enabling some interactivity”.
Brainternet uses EEG (electroencephalogram) technology to monitor the tiny electrical signals transmitted between the brain and the surface of the skull. Various regions of the brain control different bodily functions and actions. Brainternet is entirely portable and can be used while in motion. The device gathers information, transmits it to a public access site on the internet and learns about the user as it is worn.
“Ultimately, we’re aiming to enable interactivity between the user and their brain so that the user can provide a stimulus and see the response. Brainternet can be further improved to classify recordings through a smart phone app that will provide data for a machine-learning algorithm. In future, there could be information transferred in both directions – inputs and outputs to the brain,” says Pantanowitz.
The potential of a brain-computer connection is a highly controversial subject with serious ethical implications. People worry, for example, that the technology could be hacked and used for mind control. Pantanowitz agrees– “Any sort of attack that could take over the stream and use it in a non-desirable way would be a disaster for the individual involved and, more generally, it could be a real risk for society,” he says.
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