Brain / Machine Interface
Scott Frey, University of Oregon
Our ancestors have been creating and using tools for at least the past 2.6 million years. While species ranging from birds to elephants to other primates are known to be tool-users in nature, only humans have evolved a universal culture of technology in which objects are used to extend our physical and cognitive abilities. Neuroscientists are beginning to understand the brain adaptations underlying these abilities, and also how the use of technology shapes the brain.
From early stone implements through the iPhone, all tools are brain-controlled. However, because brains themselves are incapable of generating forces in the external world, until very recently it was necessary for the brain to exert its influence thorough the neuromuscular system. By enabling brain signals to influence technology directly, brain-controlled interfaces (BCIs) fundamentally alter the casual relationship between organisms and the world. In the most literal sense, this emerging discipline represents a new frontier for humankind, as well as for the engineering, neuroscience, and clinical medicine. It would be a mistake to overlook the fact that BCIs also raise challenging new ethical questions.
In this symposium we will hear from two experts working at different ends of this highly interdisciplinary field. Dr. Ralph Etienne-Cummings is an engineer who develops biomorphic devices that mimic the form and functions of their living counterparts. Ralph will tell us about the challenges of directly interfacing biological and non-biological systems. Dr. Leigh Hochberg is a practicing neurologist and basic scientist involved in the development of a BCI system that is currently undergoing clinical trials in human beings. Leigh will share his first hand experiences with developing and implementing this system and discuss the potential clinical impact of BCIs.