The idea of connecting computers directly to our brains is becoming a reality, and some of the world’s most powerful men are pouring money into the domain, hoping that the technology may one day revolutionize healthcare.
Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates recently financed the New York-based business Synchron through their venture capital funds, which tested its brain stent in seven individuals.
While many regard Synchron as a far smaller and less-capitalized competitor to Elon Musk’s Neuralink, the company is definitely moving forward with its own strategy.
The brain-computer interface (BCI) industry has been established for around 50 years, but the technology was primarily restricted to lab investigations and one-off experiments until recently. However, in recent years, BCIs have made their way from the clinic into people’s lives.
Synchron has created one of the most minimally intrusive BCIs. It’s a tiny stent with mind-reading electrodes carried up through a vital blood channel to communicate with the part of the brain responsible for voluntary movement.
Synchron’s chief commercial officer said that the device might be commercially available in a few years if clinical trials go well.
While current research primarily focuses on using these brain implants in the heads of patients suffering from severe medical conditions such as total paralysis or imagining ways to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s, the possibilities for linking brains with computers extend far beyond healthcare. The long-term potential has piqued the interest of tech billionaires such as Musk, Gates, and Bezos.
“Elon, Gates, and Bezos are always intrigued by things that could change the game,” Robert Nelsen, a biotech investor at Arch Venture Partners who are invested in Neuralink and Synchron, said in an interview.
A brain-computer interface eliminates the need for an intermediary between your computer and your thoughts. Instead, BCIs interpret your thoughts to produce specific actions, such as clicking a mouse, by recognizing predictable brain impulses.
However, BCI’s capabilities aren’t restricted to computer clicks or mechanical movements.
Deep brain stimulation is also being used to diagnose brain disorders and treat illnesses such as depression using BCIs. They may also aid in discovering mysteries about how our brains function, allowing scientists to peep inside our skulls and examine our cerebral architecture in real-time.
Beyond healthcare, there are applications such as video games, security, and building a more powerful army.
Tech titans such as Musk, Gates, Bezos, Thiel, and Vinod Khosla have invested in the BCI business. However, while most of these billionaires invest in other biotech initiatives, tech tycoons have a disproportionate presence in BCI, which is still a minor biotech area.
In contrast to more extensive and established biotechs, no BCI startup has gone public, and most of their investment rounds have been modest.
“People think of the brain as the most advanced computer out there,” Kurt Haggstrom, Synchron’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview. What tech person is not going to want to learn and be able to tap into it and understand how it works?”
While BCIs can monitor, read, understand, and even modify how our brain’s neurons act, they do not fully depict the complex interplay of dynamic, nonelectrical cellular networks in our heads that may affect how we process information and behave. These networks include everything from what actually transpired inside our blood vessels to the communication between specialized cells.
According to Christopher Moore, a neurologist and associate director of Brown University’s Carney Institute for Brain Science, BCI is “obviously a huge part of the puzzle.”
“But think of all the potential dynamics we could record in these other systems in the brain.”