In a feat that may have never been accomplished until now, biomedical engineers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg are connecting a human brain to the Internet in real time.
The project known as “Brainternet” aims to stream brainwaves onto the Internet. It essentially turns the brain into an Internet of Things (IoT) node on the World Wide Web. The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), buildings, and other objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity, which enable them to collect and exchange data.
Brainternet is the brainchild of Adam Pantanowitz, a lecturer in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering who supervised fourth-years Jemma-Faye Chait and Danielle Winter in its development.
“Brainternet is a new frontier in brain-computer interface systems. There is a lack of easily understood data about how a human brain works and processes information. Brainternet seeks to simplify a person’s understanding of their own brain and the brains of others. It does this through continuous monitoring of brain activity as well as enabling some interactivity,” explains Pantanowitz.
Brainternet works by converting electroencephalogram (EEG) signals (brain waves) in an open source live stream. A person wears a powered, mobile, internet accessible Emotiv EEG device for an extended period. During this time, the Emotiv transmits the EEG signals to a Raspberry Pi – a credit card sized little computer – live streams the signals to an application programming interface (code that allows software programs to communicate), and displays data on a website that acts as a portal. This website is currently open, meaning the public can observe the individual’s brain activity.
Pantanowitz added that this is just the beginning of the project’s potential. The team is now aiming to create a more interactive experience between the user and his or her brain. Some of this functionality has already been built into the site, but it is very narrow — limited to stimulus such as arm movement. “Brainternet can be further improved to classify recordings through a smart phone app that will provide data for a machine-learning algorithm. In future, there could be information transferred in both directions – inputs and outputs to the brain,” Pantanowitz said.
Future applications for this project could lead to some very exciting breakthroughs in machine learning and brain-computer interfaces like Elon Musk’s Neural Laceand Bryan Johnson’s Kernel. Data collected from this project could also lead to a better understanding of how our minds work and how we can take advantage of that knowledge to augment our brain power.
References: Medicalxpress, Futurism.com