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The Future is Now: Making Miracles Manifest with Neurotech-

The Future is Now: Making Miracles Manifest with Neurotech-

On a cold gray Valentine’s morning, a sullen man waits for his train. A heavy overcoat drapes his lanky frame. A woolen toque fits snuggly over his ears. 

Elevator music mixes with the muffled boarding calls. The man’s interior monologue rises above the din: “Today’s a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”

Determined not to feel like crap, the man sprints through the crowd and squeezes narrowly through the sliding doors of a commuter car to Montauk. Playing hooky from his 9-5, he meets a stranger with long blue hair in a red puffer jacket and orange hoodie. 

If you’ve seen Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you know the girl’s name is Clementine (played by Kate Winslet) and the guy is Joel (played by Jim Carrey). Joel and Clementine believe that they’re meeting for the first time, but the pair were once in love. They lived together for four years. Why, on that Valentine’s morning, don’t they recognize each other? 

Thanks to a low-cost medical procedure performed by the biotech firm Lacuna, Joel and Clementine have erased each other from memory. At the time, it seemed like the simplest way to ease the pain of love gone sour.

Eternal Sunshine is just one of many in Hollywood films that puts neurotechnology in a starring role. 

Have you seen the original Matrix

Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, performs a “neuro-treatment” on Neo, played by Keanu Reeves. A computer downloads advanced lessons in kung fu into Neo’s neocortex. 

If only mastering martial arts were that easy!

The Future is Now

While the pain of a romantic break-up is real, erasing all memories of a love gone wrong with biotech has yet to be seen. Downloading masterclasses to the neocortex is still the stuff of science fiction.

That said, for years, thousands with hearing impairment have been relying on neuroprosthetics. Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) have already received regulatory approval for clinical trials. In Harvard Business Review, Alexandre Gonfalorieri predicts that BCIs will revolutionize the future of work by giving companies the ability to monitor (and potentially control) human attention levels.. Your manager may soon know whether you paid attention in the last Zoom meeting, and preparing for presentations may become a breeze when you can do it with your thoughts alone. 

A Brief History of Brain-Computer Interfaces

Predecessors to the BCI go back as far as the late 1800s when the English physicist Richard Caton first recorded electrical signals emitted from the nervous system of animals. In 1913, Vladimir Vladimirovich Prawdicz-Nieminski identified seven types of changes in the bioelectrical activity of the brain in animals and registered alpha and beta frequencies, which he called “electrocerberogram.” In the 1920s, Hans Berger discovered electroencephalography, or EEG. Acting as a prelude to BCIs, EEG machines use electrodes on the surface of the skin to record electrical impulses.

The real research into BCIs, however, didn’t begin until the 1970s when scientists at UCLA began performing experiments to develop new communication pathways between external computer devices and animals’ brains. In the 1990s, neuroscientists began experimenting with BCIs on human brains, in particular to explore how patients in Locked-in Syndrome might communicate through an external device. 

In the last three decades, research teams have been advancing the potential of BCIs as they use technological interfaces not only to help humans to communicate, but to treat debilitating medical conditions such as paralysis and depression. Already, scientists have successfully implanted tiny sensors on the surface of the human brain that pick up on impulses. Neurons act like radio towers broadcasting messages directly from the cerebral cortex as an external computer translates them into a set of commands.

From monkeys playing video games with their thoughts to a tetraplegic using a robotic arm to pick up a mug of coffee and taking a sip for the first time in 15 years, BCIs are already making miracles happen.

Three Types of Brain-Computer Interface 

BCIs tend to fall in one of three categories: Non-invasive, semi-invasive, and invasive

In non-invasive BCIs, sensors are placed on the human scalp to measure the electrical potentials produced by the brain (EEG) or the magnetic field (MEG). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) are two forms of non-invasive brain-computer interface using magnetic fields that have already given researchers unparalleled access to patterns of brain activity underlying human perception, memory, and action.

In semi-invasive BCIs, electrodes are placed on the exposed surface of the brain to measure electrical activity from the cerebral cortex. Used for the first time in the 1950s at the Montreal Neurological Institute, electrocorticography (ECoG) requires a craniotomy to implant the electrodes. For that reason, scientists tend to rely on ECoG only when surgery is necessary, such as in cases of treating epilepsy. 

Invasive BCIs are implanted directly into the brain during neurosurgery, which means the quality of the signal detection from the brain is the highest. However, there are greater risks involved. The body may react to the foreign object and form scar tissue, which hampers the accuracy of the signals.

Four Companies Leading the Way in BCI Technology

From enabling the disabled to control a mouse cursor with their minds to promising anyone the gift of writing and drawing with her thoughts alone, a handful of companies are already turning science fiction into reality and making miracles manifest. 


One of the most widely publicized initiatives in brain-interface technology has been that “brain child” of Elon Musk, the Neuralink. Implanted through the skull with the steady arm of a robot, the “Link” is a tiny device with wires that rests on the cortical surface of the brain and records 1,204 channels of neurosignals at once. Neuralink can track head movement and temperature. It comes with a Bluetooth antenna to link to a smartphone app. Promising to help restore vision and mobility, Musk’s eventual aim with Neuralink is to create a “general population device” that connects a user’s mind directly to supercomputers. The Neuralink might eventually extract and store your thoughts as “a backup drive for your non-physical being, your digital soul.”


Similar to Neuralink, BrainGate implants an array of micro-electrodes in the brain to help people operate external devices, like robotic arms, simply with their thoughts. Originally developed by researchers in the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University in conjunction with the biotech company Cyberkitnetics Inc., BrainGate began testing on humans as early as 2004. Its first subject, Matt Nagle, was an exceptional athlete and star football player who sustained a stabbing injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. In July 2004, neurosurgeon Gerhard Friehs placed a 96-electrode implant on the surface of Nagle’s brain over the region of the motor cortex that controlled his dominant left hand and arm. Using an external computer, the device recognized Nagle’s thought patterns and translated them to move a computer cursor to press buttons, control a TV, and check emails.

Already assisting people with spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, and ALS, BrainLink hopes eventually to restore movement with advanced prosthetic limbs. 

Blackrock Neurotech

In 2021, the team behind Blackrock Neurotech — Professor Florian Solzbacher, Marcus Gerhardt, and Jeff Jensen — received approval from the FDA for its BCI device “MoveAgain,” which provides immobile patients with the ability to control a range of devices by thinking alone. Like BrainGate and Neuralink, Blackrock’s MoveAgain involves implanting an array of electrodes that decode movement from neuronal activity. Transmitting signals wirelessly to an external device like a wheelchair, MoveAgain grants those who have lost their mobility a great deal more independence. To date, MoveAgain has helped patients operate robotic arms, send email messages, surf the web, and engage with media using the power of their thoughts. The technology has also helped patients restore their hearing and sight and promises to give freedom of movement to those who have lost limbs with intuitive brain-controlled prosthetics. 


Unlike Neuralink, Blackrock, and BrainGate, Synchron has developed a BCI that taps into human blood vessels to capture signals from the brain. Researchers at Synchron believe that the “endovascular” delivery method will make BCIs simpler, safer, and more accessible. A less-invasive device, Synchron’s “stentrode” has been designed to make an imprint on the walls of blood vessels (much like a tattoo imprints the skin) to record or stimulate the human brain and nerves. Since the device doesn’t touch the physical brain directly, there’s no risk of scar tissue or long-term inflammation developing in the brain.


You may know Timbuk 3’, a band from the 1980s that sang in their top 40 hit: The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Well, it looks like the future’s so bright, I gotta wear VR shades, and those VR shades might soon be connected to a chip in my brain. 

Who knows? I may be eventually writing these articles with my thoughts alone. In the meantime, while we may be acting in vain to expect that Brain-Computer Interfaces can help us to achieve the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, the future is becoming a lot sunnier for the disabled, the hearing impaired, and those with mobility issues.

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