While we continue to wait for a “cure,” scientists and engineers are coming up with ways for those of us with limited mobility to increase our function. A recent 60 Minutes report detailed some of the current research on computer-brain interfaces, or CBI. Rather than using your hands or voice to control a computer, you can do it directly using your brain waves.
Initial attempts have used external sensors to pick up tiny electrical impulses generated by your brain when you think. For example, thinking about the letter “A” as it flashes on the screen creates a specific brain wave pattern that can be picked up by tiny electronic sensors. The whole alphabet might be flashing on the screen, so concentrating on one letter and then the next could allow you to spell out a word or phrase. The user puts on something that looks like a swimming or shower cap fitted with small electrodes that simply sit on the surface of the skull and “listen” for the brain to give off electric impulses. Similar technology is already available for video gamers.
In early trials, people with ALS and high-level SCIs have been able to type and speak by using a CBI interface. The difficulty is that listening for brain waves from outside the head is like listening to a concert from outside the venue. You probably get the gist of what’s going on, but it’s going to be somewhat garbled. The next step is to place electrodes inside the head in order to pick up these minute electrical signals more precisely.
At first glance this technology may seem a bit more advanced than it really is, but there is no chance of “Big Brother” listening in on your most intimate thoughts, a la 1984. The devices only pick up general brain patterns like “recognition.” That being said, there