Although nascent, industry reports point to a rising confluence of technology entering the fray of brain-computer interface in the country
In September this year, Neuralink, the private brain research startup backed by Elon Musk, announced that it is accepting applications for human clinical trials of its brain interface technology. Put simply, Neuralink’s technology uses a chip implanted into a person’s brain to then scan the brain for signs of deep neural anomalies, and drive small-quantum electrical impulses through areas of the brain as required. Through scanning via electrodes placed on a person’s head, Artificial Intelligence, AI algorithms that have studied brains for hundreds of hours will offer suggestions on how and where these impulses are to be driven.
While all of this sounds like science fiction, work on brain-computer interfaces has escalated in India, too. Media reports highlighted a few Indian entities that are working on this nascent tech sector, thereby bringing niche, core sophisticated tech offerings closer to reality than where they stand today.
WHAT DO BRAIN COMPUTERS DO?
There are multiple ways in which brain-computer interfaces (BCI) work. The fundamental principle behind brain computing is to use sensors and electrodes to capture neural impulses in the brain, in a bid to understand the signals that are given by the brain to control human activities. The fundamental objective behind brain computing is to see if brain impulses can be captured and transmitted externally, or even be augmented in any way.
By augmenting brain impulses, scientists hope to see if any brain anomalies, caused naturally or due to any accident, can be healed. The over-simplified principle behind this lies in that brain damage and ailments occur when impulses from one part of the brain, that controls a certain bodily function, cannot reach another part that may control limb movements, speech or other actions. If this damage can be augmented by filling up the neural signal gaps, those who have suffered from paralysis or any other brain-linked issues may get their movements back.
India’s brain-computer offerings, at present, are experimenting with ways to handle mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Brain-computer interfaces, in this regard, use electrodes to capture these signals and transmit them to a computer interface that translates the signals into actionable insights and tasks. Certain instances of BCIs have also offered an interface where thoughts are translated into words through such an interface, thereby offering those with speech impairments a way to express themselves.
WHERE DOES INDIA STAND?
India’s brain-computer offerings, at present, are experimenting with ways to handle mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as aid those with mental disabilities. One key organisation that is working on BCIs in India is the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), which is developing a brain impulse to capture impulses and record them on a computer interface.
By doing so, research work is being undertaken on how such impulses may augment brain activity in case of accidents and ailments. According to reports, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) along with C-DAC is working on a pilot project that is currently being tested.
On the private front too, there is brain-based AI research work that is being undertaken. Bengaluru-headquartered startup, BrainSight AI, is developing ultra-high resolution brain maps to study differences in various brain constituencies. By doing so, the startup is developing what it calls ‘connectomics’ that works as neural bridges to fill the gap between two nerve endings within a brain.
At the heart of both these projects is AI. By using AI algorithms to study brains, stakeholders of the BCI industry are steadily developing more accurate and convincing replicas of various human brains. This increasing accuracy is helping algorithms understand differences between each brain, thereby being able to potentially diagnose anomalies and ailments faster.
Pilot projects on the use of AI to augment mental health treatments are becoming increasingly commonplace, too. The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), a government-backed mental health, psychiatry and brain research institute, is partnering with BrainSight AI to experiment with the AI-based brain mapping technology at the moment. As development on this forefront proceeds further, digital twin providers such as Dassault Systemes are also likely to consider brain mapping and BCIs with increasing dexterity.
By Vernika Awal