Reading The Brain
This was an exciting step forward for the field of neural prosthetics, but many challenges remain. Ideally brain implants need to last for many decades – currently it is difficult to record the same signals even over several weeks so these systems need to be recalibrated regularly. Using new implant designs or different brain signals may improve long-term stability.
Also, implants listen only to a small proportion of the millions of cells that control our limbs, so the range of movements that can be read out is limited. However, brain control of robotic limbs with multiple degrees-of-freedom (movement, rotation and grasping) has been achieved and the capabilities of this technology are advancing rapidly.
Finally, the smooth, effortless movements that we usually take for granted are guided by rich sensory feedback that tells us where our arms are in space and when our fingertips are touching objects. However, these signals can also be lost after injury so researchers are working on brain implants that may one day restore sensation as well as movement.
Some scientists are speculating that brain-reading technology could help able-bodied individuals to communicate more efficiently with computers, mobile phones and even directly to other brains. However, this remains the realm of science fiction whereas brain control for medical applications is rapidly becoming clinical reality.