Brain Computer Interface: science or science fiction

Brain-computer interface (BCI), a neural device that translates a person’s brain activity into external responses or directives, might sound like science fiction. Yet we are getting closer to the day where we can directly interact with and control machines with our minds. What does this mean for those with a disability?

For our most recent Remarkable Insights panel, we were joined by a patented inventor of a brain control assistive tech, a neuroengineer who enabled the first demonstration of brain-controlled robotic limbs by people with paralysis, and a founder leading a world-class research & development team that has delivered a human-grade implant, to explore the possibilities and applications of BCI.

 

Panel

 

Moderator

 

The views expressed are solely those of the contributors.

 

Definitions of terms mentioned throughout the conversation:

  • BCI – Brain-computer interface (BCI), a neural device that translates a person’s brain activity into external responses or directives.
  • FMRI – Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity.
  • EEG – Electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that detects abnormalities in your brain waves, or in the electrical activity of your brain.
  • RNS – Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS) System is similar to a heart pacemaker. It can monitor brain waves, then respond to activity that is different from usual or that looks like a seizure.
  • FDA – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of U.S food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
  • Neuroprosthetics – Any biomedically engineered device designed to be linked to the peripheral or central nervous system and enhance the cognitive, motor, or sensory abilities of an organism.
  • Motor cortex – This is the region of the cerebral cortex (which is the outermost layer of the brain, made up primarily of grey matter) involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements.
  • Endothelialization – refers to the process in which endothelial tissue is formed.

Transcript

[00:04 – 03:43] Pete Horsley

Welcome, everyone to Remarkable Insights my name is Pete Horsley I’m the founder of Remarkable we are an early-stage tech accelerator for startups that are creating technology for disability we are part of Cerebral Palsy Alliance and we have our principal partner is icare and we have partnerships with Telstra, Vivcourt and Microsoft. As well Remarkable is where hopefully technology meets human potential and we see a real gap that exists in the place that technology can play in the lives of people with disability we mainly do that through a 14-week accelerator program where we support early-stage startups commercializing their technology and getting them on the path to getting their technology into the hands of the people that need it most. I want to acknowledge that I’m on the land of the Guringai people this is their land it was never ceded and it’s always sacred and I pay my respects to elders past present and emerging and to whoever you are joining us from as well and the traditional lands that you’re meeting on also pay my respects to elders past and present. There also to pay my respects to the disability advocates who have come before us who have fought for the rights of people with disability over many many decades and we stand on their shoulders now in doing the work that we do we have both a privilege and a responsibility because of the work that they’ve done. So today’s conversation about Remarkable insights conversation is about brain-computer interface and we know that there’s a significant opportunity to leverage technological innovation to drive an inclusive future and we want to ask the question about who’s getting left behind as technology accelerates around us and we want to ask as well how can we start to create an inclusive now rather than just an inclusive future. So for anyone wanting to join this conversation on social media please use our social media handles at remarkabletech and also use the hashtag remarkableinsights the event has live captioning by Otter AI you can make use of that using the live transcript we also have a separate AI transcript that you can click on on your screen as well. And today we also have sign interpretation by Taryn Coswello so welcome Taryn as well today we’re joined by Nick Opie from Synchron presently in lockdown in Melbourne Australia, we’ve got Beata Jarosiewicz from Neuralink in San Francisco and Zuby Onwuta from Think and Zoom in Austin Texas. Welcome to each of you today some of the people on this call are very familiar with what brain-computer interface is but for some of us it might be relatively new so I’m going to ask Beata, you’ve been at the forefront of BCI for quite some time working with a number of different organizations including someone who’s a good friend of Cerebral Palsy Alliance and Remarkable Lee Hochberg and the team at Braingate so do you mind just giving us an explanation of what BCI is, please?

 

[03:43 – 08:28] Beata Jarosiewicz

I would be happy to can you guys see my slides okay hear me okay so let’s see I’m sorry it’s got this live captioning thing at the top… There we go okay so just a brief overview of motor brain-computer interfaces which are meant to help people with paralysis to be able to control their environment and communicate. So like every cell in your body brain cells also called neurons have a voltage across their membrane and when they communicate with one another they rapidly change their voltage over the course of just a millisecond or so and we can spy on these so-called action potentials or the firing of these neurons to try to interpret what the brain is trying or what the brain indicates that the person’s movement intention is at any given moment in time for example so this is a picture of a human brain on the top left here where the left side is the front and the right side is the back and the red strip there the strip labeled in red is called the motor cortex this is the part of the brain that controls voluntary movement different parts of the motor cortex if you look at this blown-up cross-section represent different parts of the body so if you record from the neuron in the hand or arm area of motor cortex you might find activity that represents the person wanting to make particular movements of the hand or arm and here’s an example of a neuron that we recorded when I was at brain gate from participant kathy hutchinson the technician is going to be asking her to imagine that she’s opening and closing her hand and see if you can hear a difference in the activity of this neuron it’s going to sound like little popping sounds relaxed imagine you’re opening your hand relax close your hand relax open your hand so you can tell whenever the person is imagining opening our hand the neuron kind of goes crazy and when she imagines closing it the neuron gets very quiet and then with relax it’s somewhere in between so you can take a neuron like this and just look at its firing rate in small windows of time and use that information to open and close a prosthetic hand for example just by asking the person to imagine that they’re opening and closing their own hand so here’s a video of us doing that with another brain gate participant matt naval so that’s a very basic example of a brain computer interface but other neurons in motor cortex have encoding for particular imagined movements in different directions in space so for example one neuron might encode movements imagined leftward movements another neuron might increase its firing rate when the person imagines moving their hand up and if you record from a lot of neurons at the same time which a lot of brain computer interfaces do and you know the preferred directions of all of the different neurons that you’re recording from you can look at their firing rates at each moment in time and figure out from the pattern across the neurons which direction the person intends to move and then use that movement information that you’ve decoded to for example move a computer cursor on a computer screen this is the the basic explanation or the intuition for how a brain computer interface works and of course you can use that to allow a person with paralysis to point and basically use a point-and-click mouse with her brain as though she were controlling an actual computer mouse and this is another brain gate participant t6 who is typing an email to my colleague Paul Nuyujukian and using a brain computer interface and then just for context at braingate or sorry at neurolink where I currently am we’re trying to make a fully implantable and cosmetically invisible brain computer interface with lots and lots of channels that will allow a person to be able to control devices in a very similar way just by thinking about how they want to move that’s the end of my little intro I will stop sharing thank you thank you so much.

 

[08:28 – 09:44] Pete Horsley

You should be a teacher Beata I feel like thank you I feel like we have a really good base understanding of the kind of technology we’re talking about here and just to give some warning to our participants today that we probably might also be mentioning other things like EEG, intracortical neuroprosthetics and other kinds of terminologies hopefully we’ll try and explain those if we do mention those on the way through. So we know that BCI isn’t necessarily kind of reading our thoughts but it’s reading the brain’s activity when there’s intentional thought typically towards a physical activity I want us first to explore the use of some of these cases picking up the signals and then using them to control something outside the body so nick firstly congratulations on the 40 million series b capital raise earlier this year and already you’ve been doing human trials in Australia but I know that you’ve just started or just got approvals for human trials in the US as well so huge steps towards your own commercialization so congratulations for that what excites you about the potential of this technology particularly for those people who might be living with a disability?

 

[09:44 – 10:38] Nicholas Opie, CTO and Founder, Synchron

Yeah, I think it’s just fascinating how the field’s grown certainly you know from some of the work Beata mentioned in Braingate back in the day the ability to access information from within the brain extract it and then convert it into signals that can be used by people with paralysis to control computers or robotic hands or vehicles being robots and wheelchairs and so forth it is just incredible and it’s really fantastic to see the field progress to a stage where it’s starting to you know to turn from early-stage research showing that it’s feasible and possible to things like what we’re doing where it’s being implanted into people and being used by them to enhance their quality of life. I think it’s it’s amazing to watch the progression and you know there are early stages a long way to go but it’s fascinating to watch.

 

[10:38 -10:53] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and Zuby you didn’t start your career kind of in this space you kind of came to this technology through a slightly different track can you tell us the story of how you started working with BCI?

 

[10:53 – 13:41] Zuby Onwuta

Sure thanks so much Pete and thanks to everybody for being here. So yeah I’m currently in Austin Texas USA and yeah I kind of fell into this and now I’m on a journey of creating a better world for people with disabilities. So I started out just wanting to be a physician just want to be a doctor and I did that pre-med and I was in the U.S military but within two short years I went from seeing the eye chart from roughly 10 feet away or more to now down to just one foot away it was dramatic I became legally blind from a form of Juvenile macular degeneration called Stargardt and at that time once you hit your 2200 it’s supposed to plateau one-stop but mine never stopped and so by the age of 21 I had to scramble for plan c as I had to exit the military and exit my medical studies so I chose to engineer and I struggled all the way through. I had the opportunity of working for some fortune 500 companies and so I immersed deeply into software engineering but then within that journey I ended up at the school for the blind learning non-visual skills so you can imagine it was a very very tough and challenging time and then several years after that I spent some more times at no vision all kinds of ophthalmologists 300 of them and we discovered that i actually have three genetic mutations affecting my retina so that explained why i was having all the fluctuations and unstable vision but all throughout this time I kept thinking of how can i create something that could not only help myself but also millions of people like myself and so that’s what threw me into neuroscience that’s how i discovered brain control and now i’m on this journey of critiquing better worlds for people with disabilities and tell us a little bit about the technology that you’ve created so far so think and zoom leverages the power of brain waves but it does that knowing invasively for so from a wearable pci which is a sensor that touches you know outside of your head and just like a Beata explained we harness you know the electrical impulses coming from the brain and we’ve been able to develop a prototype to show that it is possible to look think and zoom in to see better so essentially in layman’s terms you can now use your brain to influence magnification so you don’t no longer have to use your hands or manually control you cannot think and zoom in to see better.

 

[13:41 – 14:56] Pete Horsley

It’s brilliant fantastic Beata earlier this year your boss i don’t know if we’re able to call him this but Elon musk announced that a monkey could play with video games using its mind this is kind of using the signals to control something external like what you explained before and while some parts of this technology are new some of the applications of this this kind of technology have been used for decades through devices like cochlear implants that were also starting to put signals that were also used to put signals back into the brain as well so Elon’s also been known to say that BCI was integral for humans not to be outpaced by artificial intelligence so it seems to me that it’s one thing to get signals out of the brain to control an external device but then another thing to i guess use those signals or to put signals back into the brain so i guess my question to you is what’s the potential of this of this technology to put signals back into the brain and what could that mean for people with disability? and also I’d love you to mention some of the work that you’ve already done with another company through epilepsy as well.

 

[14:56 – 17:01] Beata Jarosiewicz

Sure so that’s a very big question but as you mentioned you know cochlear implants provide a really good example of a very promising way to put information into the brain that the brain can then learn over not too long a period of time to make sense of and make use of for people with hearing disorders of course that the resolution of the input that you get from a cochlear implant is nowhere near the actual cochlea but with the brain’s plasticity you know the brain has this amazing ability that if a source of input into it contains information about the external world that it’s useful to the person or to the animal it’s going to learn how to make use of that information and there’s of course there’s also visual prosthetics under development for you know stimulating the visual cortex with the device like ours and there’s also of course retinal prosthetics other things like that under development that are also very promising as for oh and you also mentioned with epilepsy you know recording from i used to work at a company called Neuropace also that that makes the the RNS systems responsive neurostimulation so it listens for brain activity indicating that the person is about to have a seizure coming from the seizure focus and sends some brief electrical stimulation to try to normalize that activity and prevent the seizure from progressing and that also works tremendously well for people with medically refractory epilepsy as for writing in the kind of information elon is talking about where you want to basically be able to do a google search in your brain or be able to you know communicate with one another without having to speak that’s going to take i think it’s going to take a lot of either like better understanding of the brain that then we currently have or a big leap in technology that i currently can’t envision but it is definitely a goal of neurolink a long-term goal.

 

[17:01 – 17:16] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and Nick, just in terms of the work of Synchron give us an update on kind of where things are up to now and what the next steps in terms of some of those human trials are going to look like?

 

[17:16 – 20:10] Nicholas Opie

Sure so Synchron at the moment is as you mentioned continuing human clinical trial in australia and and branching out to the U.S our technology is a little bit different to to a lot of the other existing brain machine interfaces in that we came up with a way where you didn’t have to perform any invasive remove craniotomy’s removal of the skull you don’t need to do that to to implant our device to the brain using blood vessels as the you know the naturally occurring pathway to get to the different regions so through a small incision like an injection in the neck we can put our device up and to the motor cortex as we are mentioned before and once it’s there the the patients can you know use their brain to think about activities that they would like to perform and and the device can obviously pick that up and wirelessly transfer those out of the body to be interpreted and used to control external equipment i think certainly you know for us continuing the clinical trial we when we started the company about 10 years ago our vision really was to go beyond amazing research that everyone on the panel here is doing and get it into a product that can be used by people to help them with their with their lives and to help them and their carers perform different activities so we’re still on that pathway to you know start of a a long journey you know a lot of regulatory approvals and fda testing and needs to be needs to be achieved and and certainly we’re well on the way  to getting a product out to those that can use it with the idea being that for people who have a through damage or disease a functioning brain but a body that isn’t isn’t connected so they can’t move their arms or limbs spinal cord injury for example motor neurone disease or ALS in the U.S and other different conditions that prevent the signals from going from the brain to to their body and you know we’re planning on helping those people and certainly trying to help them in in a way that you know is surgically non-invasive very minimally invasive and and can be used sort of out of the box to perform communication as well as other activities of daily living so it’s it’s exciting and you know there’s a lot of people coming into the into this into this field at the moment which is which is fantastic and certainly i think there’s a bright future for for this technology and the people that will be using it whether they be the the users themselves or their carers or their families or whoever it might be.

 

[20:10 – 20:55] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and I want to stay with you just you mentioned there kind of some of the regulatory pathways and obviously this is all a journey towards commercialization and being able to have this available out in the market and that you know the 40 million dollars of investment you just got is people banking on you to be able to get something in the commercial market eventually I want you to kind of just talk us through a couple of the kind of critical points on that regulatory journey so far what did that look like and yeah I guess we’ve got other founders on the call today that are perhaps on a similar kind of regulatory journey so give us a bit of a picture of what that’s been looking like for you?

 

[20:55 – 22:54] Nicholas Opie

Sure well certainly you know one of the main things you need to to prove is that it’s that it’s safe and that you know that’s for for all technology whether it’s invasive minimally invasive non-invasive you need to prove that it that it’s safe and that the patients that it’s intended for you know won’t be put at additional risk by by having this technology and so that’s one of them and the fda is obviously very big on on making sure that there are a huge amount of tests that need to be conducted and shown to demonstrate that it’s safe for implantation and once it has been implanted obviously the the next step is to show that it works that it’s reliable and that it can perform how it’s intended to perform and allow the the user to communicate with it for example if that if that’s the goal or to control a prosthetic limb or whatever that might be so so there’s a lot of a lot of work you know in the background once you’ve once you’ve made the technology and even once you’ve got the surgical procedure right and implanted it there’s a lot of work that needs to go on in in continuing to to demonstrate and prove that it’s safe and functional and and will continue to be reliable over the the lifespan of the patient and i think one of the things that’s amazing is with all the technologies that the brain machine faces seem to be achieving is getting commands out of the brain and what happens at the other end there’s a lot of work also going on you know how you can make a better technology that allows people to to use these devices properly so making robotic limbs and making exoskeletons in wheelchairs there’s a whole range of other applications that people can use that are they’re only saying to be built as well which is you know which is fantastic so it means you know the people that are making the implantables now have a lot more things to connect to so so the users can control a lot more of their environment

 

[22:54 – 23:26] Pete Horsley

That’s super interesting yeah thinking about the kind of marketplace of available technologies that might need to be there in the future so for you that the regulatory in environments kind of a little bit different for those kinds of inter intracortical devices so ones that go inside the body versus those using neuro neural decoding like EEG so you might want to give a little explanation of EEG but what have been some of the significant milestones in your own commercialization journey?

 

[23:26 – 25:07] Zuby Onwuta

Yeah like Nick has you know given details the intracortical is are very heavy with regulation right because it’s going into the human body but for the eeg which we’re leveraging a head wearable device so it doesn’t go into the human body so we’re not looking at that length of time and all those lengthy clinical trials so we envisage is going to be shorter and in terms of some of the milestones we’ve achieved well we’ve gone from just concept an idea to various prototypes we have a prototype that runs on a smart glass which is what we envision in the future something very lightweight and portable that you can just wear we also have a version that works on a smartphone and in the future we hope to add one that works on your laptop and we also in order to lower the barrier of entry because people as you can imagine ask a lot of questions about you know is this real or something else we created a game out of it that fortunately won an award at apple worldwide developer conference so it’s a brain controlled game and we also earned a patent so these are some of the milestones that we’ve achieved but we also do face some barriers and and challenges as most investors still do not understand the disability landscape very well and so these are still some of the things we’re trying to tackle to move forward.

 

[25:07 – 23:26] Pete Horsley

Yeah that’s brilliant now we’ve had a question come through on the chat asking are these devices suitable for people with cerebral palsy so other than nick or beater do you want to take that one?

 

[25:21 – 26:28] Nicholas Opie

Yeah, I can start, I think in general, yes but it really depends on on the type you know certainly for the centroid and the technology we’re developing in the first case provided they have a functional brain and that meaning that they can think and cause the cells that you was talking about before to function it doesn’t have to be everywhere but just some of their brain can respond normally and that they can have intentional thoughts then yes you can acquire these and they can be used to assist but I suppose that there are going to be some conditions where parts of the brain responsible for arms or limbs may not work that might be okay you might not need that specific region to be working but certainly you know I think it’s it’s a case-by-case sort of scenario where their physicians will be able to assess whether this is something that would be suitable for them.

 

[26:28 – 27:48] Beata Jarosiewicz

Yeah i think Nick stated it perfectly just if you know the part of motor cortex that controls movement is still responsive in a way that communicates the person’s movement intent then these kinds of devices could be used or or some part of the motor motor system doesn’t necessarily have to be cortical but as long as yeah movement is still represented in neural activity then something like this could work awesome and we encourage you to put some that’s for brain machine faces and brain control and if there are other issues with other parts of the body there’s there are technologies you know many people around here as well that can  directly be involved with the you know the damaged limb or the part of the the nerve in in the limb or something like that so it doesn’t necessarily need to to come from the brain and there’s a lot of other groups and and a lot of other research and work that’s going on to look at you know how you can how you can really replace anything that’s that’s lost or damaged and so the field of biomedical engineering is certainly taking off and you know i think there’s unlimited possibilities in that regard.

 

[27:48 – 28:52] Pete Horsley

Yeah we’ve seen some incredible research happening at brown university where they’re essentially kind of taking signals from the spinal cord and looking at reinserting those essentially back into a damaged spinal cord below where a break might have happened so just there’s an incredible kind of forefronts I guess for so much of this technology control bionics is another organization here in Australia that’s done some work around taking any kind of signal from a muscle and being able to turn that into a control button as well I guess I wanted to and this one we might yes I encourage people to put questions that they’ve got into the q&a panel down below and we’ll try and get to as many of those as we can one of the questions I do want to ask each of you is if you could just briefly touch on what are some of the ethical questions that you think that we should be asking ourselves in this work? Do you want to start with that one Zuby?

 

[28:52 – 30:21] Zuby Onwuta

Sure  in terms of ethics right I think we always have to remember that the piece of technology is to serve the human right and we always have to do our very best to put the human first and then in trying to do that we have to look at the cross-section of humanity one and it pinches me to even touch on this is the event that happened at the Paralympics right where the blind athlete was hit by a self-driving train because that wasn’t considered and so if you think about the paralympic that should be the haven for people with disabilities right everything this real issue has been covered but then the self-driving train which is great but then this one angle wasn’t covered and you know it was disastrous so I think in terms of ethics rather than even trying to think too hard just remember no matter how great the technology is hey we’re trying to serve humanity first and then b let’s look at all humanity and be inclusive so that’s my take on that

 

[30:21 – 30:25] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant, thanks Zuby. Beata?

 

[30:25 – 31:01] Beata Jarosiewicz

Yeah just to add on to that I guess I would say another thing that needs to be thought about carefully is the fact that a lot of these technologies right now are meant to be assistive for people with disabilities restoring function but now and then also going forward if these ever become kind of enhancement technologies making sure that they’re available to everyone, not just people that are wealthy you know to make sure that your insurance model includes you know medicare or Medicaid or whatever just to make sure whoever needs them is able to get them.

 

[31:01 – 31:07] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant, thank you. Nick?

 

[31:07 – 31:52] Nicholas Opie

Yeah look I think what Zuby and Beata say is spot on we gotta really make sure as everyone who’s working in this field does that we put the patients first and we really have their best interest in mind I think there are a lot of ethical issues like you mentioned that haven’t been thought of as Zuby and yes and certainly time needs to be spent making sure that all covers all bases are covered where you know where possible but there are new things that arise as new technologies arise and I think as long as the researchers are aware and continue to be motivated towards helping the human condition then I think we’re in a good place with people like this on the panel who are in charge of this sort of tech.

 

[31:52 – 32:21] Pete Horsley

So one of the questions has come through a little bit more of a technical question or a couple of these are so how does your technology deal with signal noise and particularly for the intracortical devices so those inside the body and the signal loss over time due to local inflammatory response so you might just want to give a little bit of context about what happens when we put foreign objects inside the human body and I know Nick and Beata you’ll have different responses to this.

 

[32:21 – 33:57] Beata Jarosiewicz

I can start that one off so at greengate we’ve had participants that were implanted for over five years in whom the device was still working well enough that the neural signals weren’t quite as beautiful as they were in that example neuron that i showed you guys earlier but we can still get information out of the residual signals even though you know there’s a little bit of a gliosis response where the glial cells that sort of the blue that holds the neurons together in your brain tend to kind of wrap around and protect the rest of the brain from these devices that we’ve been planted in in them it makes it it makes the signal a little bit smaller over time but it’s still possible to get useful information out of them what else was i going to say oh and at neurolink work we’re working on ways to make the response this immune response kind of as minimal as possible and one way we’re doing that is by having very very flexible electrodes that they get put in with a very tiny needle that’s a quarter the size of a human hair the needle is taken back out and then these tiny little flimsy things that you can’t even really see with the naked eye end up staying in the brain they move with the brain they’re a little bit more invisible to the brain they can be coded with molecules that the brain recognizes as good things and have the brain kind of accept them more easily that way so these are some of the ways in which we’re dealing with that and yeah i’ll pass it on to Nick.

 

[33:57 – 35:25] Nicholas Opie

Yeah so our stories are a little bit different when you put things inside a blood vessel in ours so our device it goes in through a blood vessel through a very small sort of sub-millimeter catheter and when it’s in the desired location the motor cortex then we remove the catheter and it expands to put the electrodes or the sensors against the vessel wall to allow blood flow to to go through the middle what we found is a process of endothelialization or the gliosis the the body’s response to devices in a blood vessel it will push it away from the inside of the blood vessel so the device gets incorporated into the vessel wall what we found both in the the preclinical trials and the humans is that that’s actually beneficial for us we the device gets incorporated into the vessel wall where it sort of anchors and so our signal noise improves because there’s no movement through through the middle and and the device is more stable so so the fortuitously we’ve found that the  body’s reaction is actually helping our signal quality over time and and once it reaches a point obviously where it’s incorporated in the vessel you know within a couple of weeks then the signals you know remain and we haven’t got to five years yet we our first patient was in august 2019 so we’re so only only two years down but certainly we’ve seen that the signals remain as they did at the two week point from from then on.

 

[35:25 – 36:18] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and certainly, go have a look at some of the videos both of Neuralink and also Synchron for kind of seeing some of the things that both Beata and nick have just mentioned another technical question well they’ve called it a slightly technical question from Dimitri from Thoughtwide how high or low do you think that the ceiling for EEG based BCI is functionally especially with devices that are wireless and easy to wear versus those that are a lab grade capped with amps they’ve talked about so again maybe just give us a little bit of context for those that can’t imagine the technology that’s just been mentioned there who wants to take that one so if you do you want to take that one? Nick, you go first.

 

[36:18 – 37:54] Nicholas Opie

Yeah i’ve got a comment i think that there’s there’s a lot of different technologies that will have different benefits to different patient groups obviously if if you’re placing something outside the skull the skull will act like a a filter and will suppress some of the activity that you get m but need to have a binary switch to control some applications then you know that’s you know that’s that’s one application certain people might have that and indeed some of our patients haven’t wanted to use all of the electrodes or sensors we’ve got in there they’re happy with just getting really good at one or two sensors or clicks if you will and they’ve found that with even with those they can do a huge amount of communication and web-based activities like shopping and and banking and financial management and and they’ve said you know that’s enough i don’t need all these other switches for me to you know if it will for them that person to have benefit and then you go to Beata where they’ve you know got got many more electrodes and sensors and and certainly again there’ll be different applications for that there are going to be people that want to control a huge amount of of information whether it’s receiving or sending and so i think a lot of this technology will have you know a base level of everyone will be able to do this but there’ll be certain subsets of individuals as well as different conditions that might benefit from from each way of addressing the same problem 

 

[37:54 – 38:31] Zuby Onwuta

yeah I might just add to that I think that nick is right in terms of you know the different areas of applications but that question also made me remember one I think it’s out of MIT media a lot it’s called AlterEgo where they actually take the signals from the throat area they tap electrical signals before your voice box actually issues the sound so you’re silently whispering to yourself so again that’s another way of grabbing the electrical signals out of your head. 

 

[38:31 – 38:47] Pete Horsley

We’re kind of running short of time now but one other question that we’ve got there in q a is do you feel it will be disability assist or performance enhancement that will be the primary driver of BCI progress in five to ten years time? Beata do you want to take that one?

 

[38:47 – 40:18] Beata Jarosiewicz

I think definitely starting with disability assist that’s been the big driver all this time and the fact that it kind of remained in academia for so long that sort of the intracortical brain computer interface at least kind of speaks to the fact that there hasn’t been as big of maybe a push from from the  disability community or i don’t know why it’s just kind of stayed in academia for so long but then it’s been nice that there’s been much more kind of commercial interest in bringing it to market and i think definitely the fact that it’s going to take that stop along the way is is a great thing for for the disability community and then whether or not it actually ends up in the enhancement stage i’m a little bit skeptical there are certain things that i think we we definitely can do in the near future like you know add sensory modalities for example that for things that already exist like which way is magnetic north or like seeing into the ultraviolet range or something like that but yeah as for like writing in really complex information that’s going to be a little bit harder but definitely like one of the one of the drivers of both the the enhancement and the disability technology is trying to get to that final enhancement stage.

 

[40:18 – 40:22] Pete Horsley

Zuby, what about you?

 

[40:22 – 41:19] Zuby Onwuta

My hope is that we can start out focusing on the disabled there are 1 billion of us around the world and largely overlooked right and you can start looking at the statistics and you know all kinds of data so that’s just my hope that we can finally focus on this group of people and get them to climb out of the very ultra-high unemployment rate public rates and get them to learn and earn so they can become you know economically independent and contributing members of society and you can never really say never right we don’t have a crystal ball of what will happen 5 ten-fifteen years from now maybe the performance enhancement market will kick-off but the hope of my prayer is that for now let’s leverage what we have and help those who are in need.

 

[41:19 – 41:27] Pete Horsley

That’s awesome, Nick. What about you?

 

[41:27 – 42:43] Nicholas Opie

Yeah look I agree I think certainly if you look at what’s happened in history with leicester plastic surgery which started as a medical procedure for burns and other reasons you know once you’ve got traction with the medical community then you know obviously the larger community have taken that up and spun it in their own way and I think you see the the Paralympic games that were just on and certainly a few years ago you may recall the blade runner Oscar Pistorius was wearing sort of bionic limbs and wow that guy was fast like certainly much faster than I was probably equally as fast as some of the the athletes that didn’t require prosthetics and I think they had to slow the legs down so we didn’t go too quick but I think you’ll see a time where some of these bionic replacements are better than our own limbs some of the arms that have been made by in the U.S are arguably better than the one i’ve got now so you know I think there is going to be a time where where the technology excuse me improves people to it to a level that they’re not at yet but I can’t see that yeah I certainly want to see that happening for the people that need it in the first case.

 

[42:43 – 43:01] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant well the last question that I have for each of you and we’ll have to keep this brief because we’re just about out of time but what’s one remarkable insight that you have for BCI generally and where it’s headed I’m so biased we’ll start with you.

 

[43:01 – 43:42]  Beata Jarosiewicz

I’m not sure I would qualify this as a remarkable insight but my own personal insight is it’s just kind of my story of like how I got started in neuroscience was because I was very interested in consciousness and how you know brain activity gives rise to consciousness and it’s an inherently subjective thing so it’s very difficult to study but now that we’re making these brain-computer interfaces and you know implanting them in human study participants maybe we have a way to actually start accessing some of these questions as well because ow we can actually introspect and see what kind of neural chords their correlates there are of these subjective phenomena.

 

[43:42 – 43:47] Pete Horsley

That’s fantastic. Nick?

 

[43:50 – 42:43] Nicholas Opie

I think the insight that I’d like to share was from our first participant when he was using the system firstly you know it was absolutely magic to see a man sitting there paralyzed controlling something on the screen but the thing that I didn’t appreciate at the time was the people that benefit from this aren’t necessarily the users only so he was obviously benefiting he was able to control his you know his environment but on the side his wife and Cara she was able to get more independence knowing that she could now leave his side to go out in the garden go down to the shops. We connected him up with you know so communication tools Whatsapp and texting so that they could always be in contact but she didn’t have to be there and I didn’t appreciate it at the time and when building this the impact that would have on on the carers and the family and the people that aren’t necessarily the recipients of these sort of technologies so I think that was a big insight for me and certainly, you know lovely to see that what we’re doing is is more we’re further reaching than the users or the people that that actually receive the tech

 

[45:03 – 45:19] Pete Horsley

Absolutely yeah there’s the also under-recognized support community and carer community that that happens alongside some parts of the disability community as well so. That’s brilliant Zuby we’ll finish with you.

 

[45:20 – 46:44] Zuby Onwuta

Well, I think my inside will be the moment so what I mean by that is I mean look at the team you’ve assembled here right these are folks at the bleeding edge pushing technology forward to help humanity I think this is the right team to do the job right and create positive impact but then also the forum this is probably one of the first times remarkable insight has put together a busier right and so that’s great it’s an exciting moment but then look at the humanity the disability space from Caroline’s amazing job of development 500 and I just happened to be in Geneva Switzerland to echo her message same year at the UN and now two years later we do have those 500 companies and you move over to WeThe15 and then we move over to plus N inclusive innovation network and then there’s think and zoom feature of disability with a list of global innovators so that’s what I mean by this is the moment right. So we are pushing for the technology and we’re also bringing the humans together and so this is the moment to bring it all together that’s really exciting.

 

[46:44 – 48:35] Pete Horsley 

Really well said Zuby thank you so please join me in thanking our panelists today we’ve had Beata and Nick and Zuby also to Taryn our Auslan interpreter it’s been fantastic having a conversation with you. Remarkable is about harnessing technology to build social economic and inclusion for people with disabilities so we want to welcome anyone to express interest in our accelerator program that is open right now for our program running in 2022. Today is also RUOK day in Australia and are you ok day while we’re waiting on technologies like BCI that might actually be able to assist people who those of us who do have mental health challenges one of the things that we can do right today is to check in with people that we know and love and to check in and ask if they’re doing okay it’s important that we look after ourselves in this time of need as well we’ll be seeking some of your impact on today’s remarkable insight session as well so if you could leave us some comments straight after this webinar that would be fantastic recording will be made available as well on remarkable tech’s youtube channel make sure you subscribe to that this kind of conversation we think is vital like Zuby said we we hope that this moment in time of the bringing together of of people technology and where the future of technology and innovation is headed is going to be more inclusive and so we thank you for joining us for this remarkable insights we look forward to you joining us for the next remarkable insights during spark festival next month enjoy the rest of your day and wherever you are calling from good evening good morning and good night.

 

Mentions made:

[09:44 – 10:38] Synchron secures $40 million in Series B round funding 

[14:56 – 17:01] Brain-responsive neurostimulation for epilepsy (RNS ® System) 

[27:48 – 28:52] Scientists with the BrainGate research collaborative have, for the first time, used an implanted sensor to record the brain signals associated with handwriting and used those signals to create text on a computer in real time.

[37:54 – 38:31] MITMedia Lab ‘AlterEgo’ is a  non-invasive, wearable, peripheral neural interface that allows humans to converse in natural language with machines, artificial intelligence assistants, services, and other people without any voice—without opening their mouth, and without externally observable movements—simply by articulating words internally.