Brain-Computer Interface Technologies in the Coming Decades
As the proliferation of technology dramatically infiltrates all aspects of modern life, in many ways the world is becoming so dynamic and complex that technological capabilities are overwhelming human capabilities to optimally interact with and leverage those technologies. Fortunately, these technological advancements have also driven an explosion of neuroscience research over the past several decades, presenting engineers with a remarkable opportunity to design and develop flexible and adaptive brain-based neurotechnologies that integrate with and capitalize on human capabilities and limitations to improve human-system interactions. Major forerunners of this conception are brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), which to this point have been largely focused on improving the quality of life for particular clinical populations and include, for example, applications for advanced communications with paralyzed or “locked in” patients as well as the direct control of prostheses and wheelchairs. Near-term applications are envisioned that are primarily task oriented and are targeted to avoid the most difficult obstacles to development. In the farther term, a holistic approach to BCIs will enable a broad range of task-oriented and opportunistic applications by leveraging pervasive technologies and advanced analytical approaches to sense and merge critical brain, behavioral, task, and environmental information. Communications and other applications that are envisioned to be broadly impacted by BCIs are highlighted; however, these represent just a small sample of the potential of these technologies.