NEW REPORT FROM THE ECONOMIST LOOKS AT BRAIN-COMPUTER INTERFACES
04.01.2018

NEW REPORT FROM THE ECONOMIST LOOKS AT BRAIN-COMPUTER INTERFACES

London, UK - Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) open up communications channels between minds and machines and have already achieved remarkable things, says Andrew Palmer, The Economist’s business affairs editor and author of a Technology Quarterly report on brains and machines. Published in the January 7th edition of the The Economist  and online at www.economist.com the report assesses the latest research into BCIs and measures the gap between today’s reality and the ambitions of the neurotechnology visionaries.

BCI technology has already been employed in the form of implants in the brains of paralysed people, helping them to control prosthetic arms, move cursors and even reanimate their own limbs. Now the pace of research into BCIs and the scale of its ambition is increasing. America’s armed forces are keen to build better implants. And Silicon Valley is starting to focus on these technologies. Facebook is working on thought-to-text typing. Kernel, founded by entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, has $100m to spend on neurotechnology. Elon Musk has formed a firm called Neuralink, hoping to upgrade human intelligence in order to survive the advent of artificial intelligence.

These entrepreneurs envisage a world in which people can communicate telepathically, with each other and with machines, or do things that are not possible at present, such as hearing at very high frequencies. But The Economist’s report notes that three formidable barriers stand in the way:

Technological:

Non-invasive ways of reading the brain are unable to provide high-resolution signals

Current invasive implants carry risks of infection because wires go through the scalp

Existing implants interact with only a small number of neurons

Scientific:

Scientists still do not know exactly how the brain works

Experiments on humans are hard to pull off, for regulatory and other reasons

Commercial:

It takes time, money and expertise to get medical devices approved

Commercial applications will take off only if they are obviously useful

Unless in urgent need of treatment, consumers will resist the idea of implants  

The Economist’s report looks at efforts now under way to read and stimulate brain activity, both invasively and non-invasively, and considers the practical and ethical difficulties involved in moving neurotechnology from the lab into clinical and consumer applications. Solving these problems will take a great deal of time and effort. Even so, a big leap forward for brain-computer interfaces, argues Andrew Palmer, is looking increasingly likely.

You can read the report here and online at www.economist.com

For more information and to interview Andrew Palmer on this topic, please contact:

Tom Amos/The Economist (US), tomamos@economist.com /+1 212 541 0583

Holly Donahue/The Economist (UK), hollydonahue@economist.com /+44 (0) 20 7576 8379

About The Economist (www.economist.com)

With a growing global circulation and a reputation for insightful analysis and perspective on every aspect of world events, The Economist is one of the most widely recognised and well-read current-affairs publications. The paper covers politics, business, science and technology, as well as books and arts, concluding each week with an obituary. In addition to the web-only content such as blogs, debates and audio/video programmes available on the website, The Economist is available to download for reading on Android, Blackberry PlayBook, iPhone or iPad devices. The Economist Espresso, our daily briefing smartphone app, is also available for download via iTunes App Store or Google Play.