Unlock Your Mind: Are Brain-Machine Interfaces the Next Step in Human Evolution?

Cyborgs—people who are part human, part machine—are a staple of science fiction, in particular dystopian science fiction such as the Terminator movies. In popular culture, merging with machines is something to be feared, loathed, and portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But in reality, many of us are already part machine. Think about the least complex tools (eyeglasses, canes) and the most advanced contraptions (prosthetic limbs, pacemakers). All of the above enhance our lives and become part of who we are, while changing who we are.

The most profound transformation, however, may occur within the brain: With the development of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) and accompanying advancements, human evolution might veer towards the artificial, potentially bringing significant benefits. Both present and upcoming innovations in BMI could redefine the boundaries of possibility, which, in turn, might reshape us.

Predicting hand movement from brain activity

Recently, a study entitled “Human local field potentials in motor and non-motor brain areas encode upcoming movement direction” showed promise in how a machine learning framework can actually read our minds when it comes to movement. This study utilized intracranial recordings to analyze whether limb movements could be decoded from such recordings alone. Spectacularly, it turns out they can (1).

As Etienne Combrisson et al wrote:

“The present study investigated the feasibility of decoding planned and executed limb-movement directions from human intracranial recordings, using a wide range of spectral features (i.e. power, phase, and phase–amplitude coupling in multiple frequency bands and brain areas). We found that decoding during the planning phase mainly involved lower frequencies of power (i.e. alpha and beta) in the posterior middle frontal cortex and parietal areas. We also found significant decoding during movement execution using high-gamma power in motor and premotor areas but also using very low-frequency phase (1.5 Hz). These findings, in addition to the illustrations of the feasibility of multi-feature temporal generalization of directional tuning representation in the human brain, advance our understanding of the role of spectral properties of brain activity in movement planning and control and open up new paths that could be explored in next-generation brain-machine interfaces” (1).

In other words, these intracranial recordings of brain activity focused on spectral qualities of that activity, and this method yielded remarkable results. In a nutshell, different frequencies of power are involved when the brain is planning a movement than when executing a movement, which makes a great deal of intuitive sense. Making a plan is going to take different, and generally lesser, resources than carrying out a plan, whether the plan is going to the store, robbing a bank, or moving a limb (1).

By identifying which frequencies are linked with planning vs. execution of movements, this study will open up new paths in research. Those new paths could make a huge difference when it comes to artificial limbs and other movement-related endeavors. Any improved recording and reading of the brain’s messages can be utilized to better assist those who have lost their limbs or other body parts. Such research could literally help people become whole (1).

BMI Detects Words and Reads Minds

As you’re reading these words, you “say,” or at least recognize them, in your head. Imagine if such silent recitation could in turn be “read” or used to communicate in some way. Sounds like science fiction involving telepaths? More like science fact: this internal register of words is exactly what has been captured in some recent research (2).

This research fills several gaps. For one, the ability of any technology to read or otherwise register internal speech is severely limited. Also, it’s not known which areas of the brain are used for internal speech. So the search for internal speech is geographic as well as phenomenological (2).

As Sarah K. Wandelt et al explained, this highly technical process yielded striking results and a sort of mind-reading indeed:

“Here two participants with tetraplegia with implanted microelectrode arrays located in the supramarginal gyrus (SMG) and primary somatosensory cortex (S1) performed internal and vocalized speech of six words and two pseudowords. In both participants, we found significant neural representation of internal and vocalized speech, at the single neuron and population level in the SMG. From recorded population activity in the SMG, the internally spoken and vocalized words were significantly decodable” (2).

Thanks to that decodability, this study had significant success in the areas of region-identifying and word-reading.

Importantly, the study also included a few pseudowords. These non-words (bindip and zifzig) were designed to test the phonetic capabilities of the research. In other words, can non-audible sounds be detected as easily as non-audible lexical items? The answer was yes (2).

Think about what that means for a second. This technology is able to “read” the invisible and “hear” the inaudible. This could mean all manner of advancements for people with brain injuries related to speech.

The Future of Human Evolution

Detecting movement from spectral analysis of brain waves and recording language from intracranial recordings are just a few examples of the latest advances in BMI. The science won’t stop here, nor should it.

BMIs are going to get more precise at decoding the words we’re thinking and the impulses we’re having—to move or do anything else. As scientists get closer to grokking the human brain, we shouldn’t be afraid but rather grateful for the potential to treat brain injuries, brain diseases, and all manner of neurological issues.

Such mind-bending technology may even alter the course of human evolution, in a positive way. More and more, the mysterious human brain may become repairable, perhaps even hackable in the computer sense.

We tend to think of evolution as something already completed, something you read about in science books (or don’t read about, depending on your geography or religion). But evolution is just a fancy word for change, and nothing stays the same forever. Change is ongoing and continuous—a constant.

It remains to be seen how BMIs influence human evolution, but there’s no question that they will. In the process, the definition of humanity may change, and the quality of life may rise. Wouldn’t that be something?

Elevate Your Medical Communications with DKMD Consulting

At DKMD Consulting, we specialize in transforming complex medical innovations, like the recent strides in brain-machine interfaces (BMI), into clear, impactful communications that resonate with clinicians and patients alike.

Understanding the intricacies of BMI can be challenging. Our team excels at distilling this complex information into digestible, engaging content that informs and inspires action.

Whether you aim to educate your clientele about BMI’s role in movement or language, DKMD Consulting crafts the narrative that aligns with your goals.

Partner with us to enhance how your business communicates about health and science:

  • Expert Medical Writing: Benefit from our expertise in medical copywriting to ensure your communications are scientifically accurate and compelling.
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Step forward with DKMD Consulting and ensure your communications reflect the sophistication and potential of modern medical science. Contact us today to learn how we can help you articulate the future of healthcare.

References

  1. Wandelt, S. K., Bjånes, D. A., Pejsa, K., Lee, B., Liu, C., & Andersen, R. A. (2024). Representation of internal speech by single neurons in human supramarginal gyrus. Nature Human Behaviour, 10.1038/s41562-024-01867-y. Advance online publication.

  2. Combrisson, E., Di Rienzo, F., Saive, A. L., & Daligault, S. (2024). Human local field potentials in motor and non-motor brain areas encode upcoming movement direction. Communications Biology, 7, 506.

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