“Within ten years we’ll have BCIs that we didn’t think were possible.” Professor David Boas, on the future of brain-computer interfacing.

“Within ten years we’ll have BCIs that we didn’t think were possible.” Professor David Boas, on the future of brain-computer interfacing.
The V1 Edition

This year has seen a number of mammoth organizations – including Facebook, Neuralink and Kernel – announce their intentions to further the field of brain-computer interface (BCI). Their claims that within the next ten years humans will be able to telepathically share their thoughts with machines (and even other humans) have more-often-than-not been met with skepticism from the scientific community. Experts from neurobiology and neurotechnology have spoken out, saying that the claims are too ambitious. V1 wanted to learn more about the possibilities.

David Boas, Ph.D. researches optical imaging of the brain, and has been a professor at Harvard Medical School since 1998. He also came out as a converted skeptic of certain aspects of BCI technology in an article for Neo.Life published in May, 2017. Convinced by Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen, CEO and founder of OpenWater – a startup whose goal is to create a device to enable telepathy – Boas said that her vision was theoretically possible.

V1 asked him what he believes the future might hold for this controversial technology.  

V1   

“What was it about your meeting with Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen that converted you from a skeptic of BCI possibilities?”

Prof. Boas

“It wasn’t necessarily the BCI aspects of it, but the using of light to image deeply in the brain with high spatial resolution. I was very skeptical about her being able to achieve anything like what she was talking about.

“There’s always been a limitation in the hardware enabling us to really achieve what is theoretically possible. What Mary Lou Jepsen helped me realize is that it’s possible, you just have to make that technology.”

V1

“Why do you think organizations such as Facebook and Neuralink have become so interested in BCI in 2017?”

Prof. Boas

“That’s a great question. It’s catching many of us by surprise. I think that at the root of it is probably the significant advances in computational power that have really drive machine learning, deep learning and the phenomenal advances we’ve seen. The last two years I think have really opened up the door to knocking out the big challenges to BCI that have always been there.”

V1

“Kernel has said that within four years it will be able to help seriously injured people communicate better, and Neuralink claims that within eight to ten years mind-to-mind communication will be possible. Do you think these timeframes are achievable?”

Prof. Boas

“Those are fast timelines. They won’t achieve everything that everyone’s interpreting as their promises. But I can definitely believe that within ten years we’ll have BCIs that we didn’t think were possible.”

V1

“How do you think the arrival of these organizations into the BCI space will affect the on-going fields of research?”

Prof. Boas

“The consumer market can drive technology very quickly. I see that as a great positive. Researchers are no way going to raise the billions of dollars needed to make that technology available to them. It’s going to have to be driven by consumer technology. You need the much bigger market to drive that technology growth. I think it’s fantastic that they’re pouring this money into the technology. It’s going to open up the floodgates.”

V1

“What are some ways you can imagine organizations being able to monetize BCI technology?”

Prof. Boas

“The clinical (providing the technology to disabled individuals) is one way of monetizing it, but I still think the consumer industry will make a lot more money. It doesn’t just have to be video games. Smartphones are becoming more situationally aware, and if you have that BCI connection, it just gives smartphones that much more information to make our daily lives that much easier. It’s the next extension of the smartphone.”