Short of being able to read minds, neuroscientists need and use technology-based tools to peek into your brain. Broadly speaking, connecting your brain to machines is known as “brain computer interface” (BCI).
As the power of modern computers grows alongside our understanding of the human brain, we move ever closer to making some pretty spectacular science fiction into reality. Imagine transmitting signals directly to someone’s brain that would allow them to see, hear or feel specific sensory inputs. Consider the potential to manipulate computers or machinery with nothing more than a thought. It isn’t about convenience — for severely disabled people, development of a brain-computer interface (BCI) could be the most important technological breakthrough in decades.
That’s the path we’re on…working towards the technology breakthroughs in neuroscience that lead to Brain Health & Wellness, Personal Empowerment and Smart Aging.
Our brains are filled with neurons, individual nerve cells connected to one another. Every time we think, move, feel or remember something, our neurons are at work. That work is carried out by small electric signals that zip from neuron to neuron as fast as 250 mph.
A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a system that allows a person to control a computer or other electronic device using only his or her brainwaves, with no movement required. BCIs can be used for communication, computer access, or control of devices such as a wheelchair or prosthetic arm, among other applications. Virtually anything that can be controlled by a computer could, potentially, be controlled by a BCI.
There are basically two types of BCI systems: invasive and noninvasive. Invasive systems require surgery to implant electrodes on or near the surface of the brain. Most noninvasive systems use electrodes placed on the scalp, usually held in place in a cap or headset. Noninvasive systems cause little or no discomfort, although most currently require the use of conductive gel which must be wiped or washed out of the hair after use.
The brain signals that are picked up by the electrodes are sent to the computer, which uses sophisticated software to translate the brain signals into computer commands. For My Virtual Dream those brain signals are translated into computer commands that create the artwork and music in the dreamscapes.
BCI technology cannot read or control your mind! All BCI systems require conscious effort from the user to type a message or move a computer cursor. BCI technology will not read your mind or share your private thoughts with others. In addition, BCI cannot be used for mind control. The electrodes are simply sensors that detect brain activity, and cannot send thoughts or commands into the brain. The user controls the computer, not the other way around.
How does Neurofeedback work in My Virtual Dream using BCI?
In My Virtual Dream, each Dreamer uses a neuroheadset BCI to affect what they are seeing and hearing. The Dreamer can react to images and sounds produced by their own brainwaves, thus continuing to affect them in some direction: relaxation with calm imagery and focus with dramatic imagery. The space in between produces odd imagery. That direction is up to them, and this closed loop is called neurofeedback.
MVD is different from the typical neurofeedback setting. Dreamers will interact with the other Dreamers and the environment. Thier state as a group, either Deep Relaxation or Focus, will change the outcome of the dream. It’s a complex scenario rich with the unknown, which is very exciting and progressive. We are never certain what the dreams will be like.
How does MVD work with other Virtual Brain products?
The short answer is that they all work together so we can learn the most we can about the human brain.
My Virtual Dream and BrainModes are real time applications for the general public. The Virtual brain is an open source tool for scientists, clinicians, educators or anyone interested in fullbrain simulation. They see the brain from different perspectives, and help further our understanding.
MVD is powered by The Virtual Brain and BrainModes. The Virtual Brain is the foundation for how we understand the brain, and how we interpret signals from the neuroheadsets used during My Virtual Dream. What we learn from My Virtual Dream contributes to The Virtual Dream, and vice versa.
BrainModes is a project currently under development, which will use a real time version of The Virtual Brain and some of the neurofeedback aspects demonstrated in My Virtual Dream. BrainModes will be available to individuals with smartphones and neuro headsets of their own. Users will be able to see very detailed models of their own brain, made possible for the first time by The Virtual Brain technology.
Like MVD, users will be able to control sound and visuals with their brains for training and amusement. It’s like taking a piece of this amazing technology home with you.
by Richard Tavener, executive producer, My Virtual Dream