“Mind-reading” computers could be routinely used to enhance the human brain in as little as five years.
The technology, which monitors brain activity, could help people analyse complex information and make critical decisions.
Radiologists scanning X-rays for cancer, City traders making multi-million pound transactions and police searching a crowd for a suspect’s face could be the first to benefit.
But Dr Davide Valeriani, a senior research officer at the University of Essex, said any task requiring prolonged concentration could be made safer and more accurate with the help of computers.
Brain-computer interface technology in action.
“We are doing this for human enhancement, to go beyond our limits,” he said.
“In the future we could have sensors on our head, for instance integrated into a cap or an earphone, to track our level of concentration,” he said.
“It could even send us feedback, telling us that we’re not focused. Drivers driving many hours a day could use it to improve safety on the road.”
I tried an experimental “brain-computer interface”, or BCI, at the University of Essex.
BCI technology could be used by doctors analysing scans
A computer monitored my brain activity through a 64-lead electroencephalography cap (EEG).
By imagining certain movements with my hands and legs I was able to control an avatar in a game.
No keyboard, no handheld controller, just the power of thought.
If I lost focus and failed to send the right brain signals the avatar fell over.
Dr Valeriani said the same technique could be used to spot the flicker of brain activity of a subconscious “gut-feeling”.
Intuition is often filtered out by more conscious logical thought, yet can be a powerful aid to decision making.
“BCIs give us the possibility of getting information that we are generally not conscious of having.
Scientists hope police could one day make use of the technology
“We could tap into the brain of a person and using machine learning say, this was the gut feeling, this is what happened and then map that particular feeling with an action.”
Dr Sarah Chan, a bioethics expert at the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, said BCIs that monitor our patterns of thought raise questions about privacy, but also our identity.
“One of the questions that brain computer interfaces are going to raise for us is this age-old problem of what it means to be human,” she said.