Human beings are after a relentless race of performing jobs better with minimum involvement. We are always looking after means of having a higher level delegation of role to machines. It has been progressing from the physical push to pressing a button, steering wheel, writing commands, pointing and clicking, giving gestures, and offering voice commands. Progressively, it requires less involvement to perform tasks, whether driving a car or asking a robot to lift an object. However, our urge to execute them originates at the neural level. It propagates and activates our muscles to produce physical actions or expressions. Instead of waiting for physical organs to respond to command the machines, what about taking the human-machine interface at the neural level. Untapped innovation possibilities of neural implants are waiting.
Let’s look into two major creative waves of destruction, transforming industries, and monopolizing business opportunities. The first one is about the graphical user interface of the personal computer. The need for memorizing commands and writing them character by character to instruct computers was quite engaging. Although it was not that difficult for a computer literate adult, it caused barriers to children or even adults, not having adequate computer literacy, to command computers to ger jobs done. The development of point and click-based graphical user interface brought transformation. It made it easier to interact with computers; most importantly, it fueled a creative wave of destruction. This transformation created new behemoths out of startups and also disrupted dominant incumbents.
A similar transformation happened in the mobile phone handset industry. Apple emerged as the world’s most valuable company, making the user interface intuitive by replacing the keyboard and stylus with multi-touch gestures. Do we envision similar or greater neural implant innovation possibilities for making the human-machine interface far more intuitive than ever before?
A long history is reaching fruition
The journey began with the idea of having a direct communication pathway between an enhanced or wired brain and an external device. It has many names. Some of them are (i) brain-computer interface (BCI), (ii) neural-control interface (NCI), (iii) mind-machine interface (MMI), (iv) direct neural interface (DNI), and (v) brain-machine interface (BMI). Recently, visionary Elon Musk has given a new name: Neuralink. As early as 1924, German scientist Mr. Berger was the first to record human brain activity by monitoring the human brain’s electrical activity. Subsequently, it gave birth to electroencephalography (EEG ) innovation. Commercial EEG products are already in clinal usage. However, several universities and firms, particularly in Japan, are actively developing neural implants with wireless data and power interfaces.
For the purpose of mapping, assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions, academic research began in the 1970s, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). A contract from DARPA followed the initial research grant from the National Science Foundation. Perhaps, for the rehabilitation urgency of soldiers differing from injuries, DARPA showed interest in sponsoring this research. In addition to using EEG, some of BCI possibilities include repairing damaged sight and providing new functionality for people with paralysis. Such technology could also offer intuitive interfaces between the growing elderly population and semi-autonomous assistive devices. However, the most important innovations appear to be in the area of fueling creative waves of destruction in human-machine interfaces.
As envisioned by Elon Musk, a more advanced form of possibilities include downloading memories, storing them elsewhere, and uploading them to someone’s brain. However, the technology of gathering signals directly from neurons and using them for controlling physical devices is at a very early stage. Particularly, a physical implant is a barrier to many innovation possibilities.
Early-stage uncertainties facing innovation possibilities of neural implants
Like all other great technologies, BCI is also at the early stage of the life cycle. For example, the electronic image sensor emerged in a very primitive form. Who would have predicted that an 8×8 black & white noisy image sensor would disrupt the matured camera industry? Even upon making the first digital camera prototype in 1975, Kodak did not pursue it further. Similarly, Xerox management did not pursue its commercial potential upon having the prototype of graphical user interface functioning.
The recent advancement of having neural implants with inductive charging and wireless connectivity appears to be a big boost. The perfection of using a robot that, upon taking a high-resolution image scan, implants the interface Like sewing the electrode threads into place with a precision that avoids any blood vessels in the area would improve the technology further. Of course, the issue of opening and closing the skull and the need for general anesthesia should be resolved adequately.
At the early stage of technology development, one of the challenges has been finding customers in the innovator category. These customers play a vital role in producing revenue, offering feedback, and also countering skeptics. According to Prof. Clayton, this is the problem of locating non-consumption. Hence, this issue also deserves attention.
The defense as the customers for the premature products
Historically, Defense and Space industries show up as early customers for premature products. For example, in 1958, the US air force was the customer for the computer built with Fairchild’s $150 apiece transistor. Similarly, defense and space programs were also customers for primitive electronic imaging sensors in the early 1970s. In the early days of computers, cellular communication, and the Internet, the US military gave a push for being lead customers. It’s good to know that DARPA has already been involved with BCI.
Innovation possibilities of neural implants
Often, possibilities of disruptive innovation dominate technology invention discussion. However, technology could also show magical performance by contributing to the incremental advancement of existing products, as opposed to changing technology core and driving a creative wave of destruction. Innovation possibilities of Neural implants should take into consideration of both of them. For example, Neural Implants can make existing EEG equipment far better in offering far greater brain signals clarity. Similarly, existing prosthetic arms or legs can also experience incremental advancement with the help of Neural Implants. However, far greater possibilities are waiting to exploit by using Neural Implants to drive creative waves of destruction in the human-machine interface.
Innovation possibilities of neural implants for driving a creative wave of destruction
Along with the exploitation of incremental innovation possibilities, greater attention should focus on using a Neural implant to replace the technology core of major products or ways of getting things done. For example, often automobile accidents occur because human drivers take too long time to respond to suddenly occurring situations. In expressways, such accidents involve crashes that have more than one impact. The most common type of multiple impact car accident is a “pile-up” accident.
It happens because even upon recognizing the situation and deciding to apply the brake, signals take several 100 milliseconds to reach the brain’s legs and hands. This time lag is enough to create the “pile-up”. What about having brain implants and letting the signal directly flow to the brake and/or steering wheel? There is a possibility that the response latency in such emergence could come down from 100s of milliseconds to tens. Is there a possibility that using this innovation to fuel creative waves of destruction in the automobile industry is worth pursuing?
We should also explore the new phase use interface for the smartphone. Can we harness the innovation possibilities of neural implants for fueling a creative wave of destruction in the smartphone industry? It’s time to look into these and many other innovation possibilities of neural implants for creating a series of creative waves of destruction driving a new phase of civilization. However, we should look for an alternative to physical implants to exploit fully. Moreover, an implant having 1,000 electrodes appears to be highly insignificant to monitor and transmit the functions of 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses of our brains. Despite having potential, like many other technologies, neural implants also need a long journey of refinement for fueling innovation magics.