Brain-Computer Interfaces: A Revolution or Pandora’s Box?

Khilansha MukhijaLaw

Brain-Computer Interfaces: A Revolution or Pandora's Box?

Brain, cognition, and consciousness are some terms that humans use to distinguish themselves from other species. Over time, their thoughts have developed into intricate systems, allowing them to become the “intelligent” species. As a result, their quest to understand who they were and how their brain functioned also evolved.

The advent of challenges, such as the inactivity of imperative body organs such as hands due to a variety of diseases, including paralysis, rendered humans helpless. But they found their way out. Medical research unveiled that the core of such issues was the distortion of the nervous system. Brain-Computer Interface (“BCI”) works on this exact principle. Imagine controlling a prosthetic limb or a computer’s mouse with a mere flicker of thought!

BCI acts between a body and a machine, filling the void of distorted nerve cells. This technology enables actions that have been the claims of sci-fi movies’ futuristic reality for a long. It is a game changer, blurring the line between our minds and the machines we use. Besides the exciting possibilities, BCIs also raise serious ethical questions. This article looks at those issues, exploring privacy and security and discussing what it means to be human in a world where our brains are hooked to computers.

What is the Brain-Computer Interface?

The Brain-Computer Interface starts with sensing brain activities. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a common technique that uses electrodes on the scalp to capture the electrical buzz of the brain’s thoughts. A sophisticated software then decodes these raw signals by translating them into commands the computer can understand. It allows users to do actions like move a cursor on a screen or control a robotic arm based on their thoughts. Finally, the decoded message is transmitted to a connected device, allowing thought-controlled movement or interaction.

Medical Applications

Some of the most prominent medical applications of BCI are as follows:

  • Neuralink: Elon Musk’s neuro-technology company is at the forefront of BCI. They produce brain chips known as Neuralink, which decode and transmit neural signals. They enable restoration of movement for individuals with paralysis to facilitate thought-controlled prosthetics.
  • Ability to Communicate: A study published in the famous Nature Communications journal described the recovery of a paralysed patient. In this case study, a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) lost the ability to perform all voluntary muscular functions, including breathing. BCI enabled the patient to spell the words letter-by-letter using his thoughts.
  • Touch and Movement: The bioelectronic team at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research conducted a study to decode deep brain signals related to touch and movement. They developed a BCI system for individuals with paralysis or those who have lost their sense of touch due to diabetes, injury, or neuropathy. This system allows individuals to perform daily tasks like eating or dressing.
  • BrainGate: BrainGate is a pioneering project of neurologists, neuroscientists, engineers, and researchers. It has collaborated with prominent institutions like Harvard Medical School and Brown University. The team is focused on developing BCI to restore communication and movement in patients with neurological disorders such as ALS.
Non-Medical Applications

Non-medical applications of BCI include but are not limited to the following:

  • Brain-Computer Music Interface (BCMI): Musicians can use BCMIs to create music by translating their brain activity into musical sounds. Using BCMIs allows for a more intuitive and expressive way of composing music.
  • Gaming and Entertainment: BCIs are poised to revolutionise gaming and entertainment. Imagine controlling characters with your thoughts, feeling virtual fear in horror games, or personalising music based on your brainwaves. BCIs offer a more immersive experience, but challenges like accuracy and cost remain to be addressed. The mind-controlled future of entertainment promises to be a genuinely groundbreaking endeavour.
  • Neuro-Marketing: Companies can use BCIs to understand consumers’ subconscious reactions to products or advertisements. By monitoring brain activity patterns, companies can gain insights into emotional responses and preferences, potentially leading to more effective marketing campaigns. An example of this is Coca-Cola, the famous beverage giant that is reportedly relying on emotional marketing. They have allegedly used EEG to understand how brainwaves react to their commercials, gauging emotional responses to their branding and messaging.
  • Sensory Augmentation and Virtual Reality: Researchers at the Czech Technical University used a BCI to allow users to control a virtual avatar in a 3D dimensional environment by simply thinking about their movements. This opens doors for new immersive virtual reality experiences controlled by thought.
Ethical Concerns and Dilemmas

Ethical concerns cast a shadow over BCI’s promising advancements. From privacy breaches to questions about autonomy, BCIs challenge us to navigate these issues and work towards a balanced approach.

Privacy: Keeping your thoughts to yourself

A BCI system works by collecting and analysing tons of data about what’s going on in your brain. It is like getting exposed, literally! This information could even include memories that one would rather keep to themselves. It could be their deepest secrets or even some private health information. Concerns about safety and breach of private data have always been in the limelight. Here, we are talking about the human brain and the key to the possibility of everything being personal about an individual.

Security: Making sure your brain stays yours

If an attacker hacks your computer, that is bad enough. But what if they can hack the BCI system or indirectly an individual’s brain? That’s a whole other level of a nightmare. They could gain the power to mess with one’s thoughts or make them do things they do not want. Life-saving applications of technology can quickly become a way to terrorise individuals.

Autonomy and Free Will: Who is really in control?

BCIs could blur the line between an individual and the computer, making it hard to tell where the interface begins and ends. This peculiar situation raises questions about who is really in control. If a computer can mess with your thoughts, are you still the one calling the shots? And what happens if something goes wrong – can you still be held accountable for your actions? These are tricky questions with no easy answers.

Identity: What makes you, you?

Memories and experiences shape an individual’s identity. But what if they could enhance their memory with a BCI implant? Are those memories still theirs? This potential infiltration raises concerns about the integrity and authenticity of an individual’s identity.

Access and Equity: Levelling the playing field

While this is just the beginning, BCIs are expensive. Not everyone can afford them. That is a problem. This means some people will have access to things like better memory or faster learning, while others won’t. If BCIs become necessary for specific jobs or opportunities in the future, this could create even more inequality.


We cannot deny that BCI is a revolutionary technology that would address various medical challenges. It will undoubtedly help in the human quest to understand the brain’s functioning. Along with being a support system for those in need, it will promote science and technological innovation. On the contrary, scepticism about its potential misuse still exists, making this technological quest a Pandora’s box. As discussed earlier, various ethical dilemmas stand in the way. Hence, scrutiny of these issues is crucial.

One of the famous quotes from the book The Three-Body Problem reads,

Human science must meet human needs.

On the same lines, this technology should exist to serve its purpose of human good and not otherwise.