IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2020 - 10

technology is invasive, requiring surgical implantation,
track and follow a computer cursor using just the
and is only available for use with wounded warriors. The
power of thought.
question Emondi is now asking is whether the technology
"At its most basic, a brain-computer interface, somehas advanced enough that we might be able to interface
times referred to as a brain-machine interface, is an
the brains of the able-bodied with cominteraction and control channel that
puters using nonsurgical approaches.
does not depend on the natural pathToday, there are different types of
ways of the central nervous system,"
While neural
brain stimulation, but they are not very
explains José del R. Millán, a professor
specific, according to Emondi.
at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne
nanorobotics
"The resolution in which you can
(EPFL) in Switzerland.
will be in
interact with those neurons is quite
"Whenever I move my hand," Millán
large, so the question became if it
says, "there is the sense of perception,
development
would be possible to interoperate with
so we know if the move was accomfor decades to
the brain in smaller scales, even down
plished, and the degree of accomplishcome, it is a
to 50 microns," Emondi explains. "We
ment." According to Millán, the intent of
looked around and saw there is a lot of
the subject has to be derived directly
strong indicator
work going on in four modalities: ultrafrom analysis of the subject's brain
of
where
this
sound, light, magnetic fields, and elecactivity, and there needs to be a re--
tric fields."
sponse or completion, in order to undertechnology
He says there has been a lot of
stand whether or not the intended
likely is headed.
advances in these approaches in the
action has been accomplished, and how.
past few years, so "We felt it was probaMillán points out that BCI alters
bly time to see whether or not we could
brain activity by requiring users to
start interoperating with the brain in a non- invasive way,
learn to modify their brain activity patterns, as opposed to
and still get the resolution we need. That is ultimately what
brain stimulation, which modifies brain activity (upreguwe are after."
lating or downregulating certain brain rhythms) by delivIn May, DARPA awarded funding to six organizations to
ering small electrical currents, magnetic pulses, or
support the N3 program:
ultrasound waves to brain tissue.
He feels something has to happen with non-invasive
◆◆ Battelle Memorial Institute
technologies, in the same way there have been great
◆◆ Carnegie Mellon University
advances in invasive approaches, in order to bring about
◆◆ Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
new materials, interfaces, and approaches to make non◆◆ Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)
invasive interfaces easy to set up and use in daily life.
◆◆ Rice University, and
Eventually, Millán anticipates a future where BCIs will
◆◆ Teledyne Scientific.
detect our cognitive states to empower our intelligent
These groups of researchers will pursue a mix of
devices, and make smart devices adapt to us, instead of us
approaches and modalities to develop high-resolution, bito them.
directional wearable BCIs. Applications that might be
"This will make the new cognitive era that is coming
enabled by the research include control of active cyberdereally attune to people, rather than detaching people from
fense systems, swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles, and
technology," Millán says.
teaming with computer systems to multitask during complex.
"Imagine a cyber-network sends feedback directly into
DARPA
the brain in the form of a haptic response, maybe perceived
One organization that has been at the forefront of BCI
as a sensory stimulation on your arm or a signal that is acturesearch since the 1970s is the Defense Advanced Research
ally invoked in the somatosensory cortex itself, that the netProjects Agency (DARPA), which is responsible for the
work is being attacked," Emondi says. This could provide
development of emerging technologies for the U.S. Departtotally new ways of interoperating with military systems
ment of Defense.
that involve multiple modalities for direct neural connecIn early 2018, DARPA launched the Next-Generation
tions. This could not be explored previously, because the
Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N 3) program, which
available technologies were all invasive (requiring surgery
and implants).
seeks to achieve high levels of brain-system communica"If we can figure out how to do this in a non-invasive way, it
tions without surgery. Says Al Emondi, N3 program manreally opens up the door for further exploration," Emondi says.
ager, "It is really about bringing all new technology to the
BCI problem."
Neuralink
Emondi points out that when you look back at all sucTechnology entrepreneur Elon Musk is also active in the
cess that DARPA has had in the field of brain-computer
BCI field through his start-up Neuralink, which is
interfaces, one of the limitations is that all of the
10	

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IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2020

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