There are times when you can actually believe that you have been asleep for a few years. You wake up, switch on your computer and read something that clearly comes from the distant future. The item, in this case, was a headline that read: “Brain machine interface hardware revenues to reach $19 billion by 2027”. Surely some time warp must have catapulted us at least five years into the future.
As bleary, early morning images of people interfacing with their computers (such an old fashioned term), devices, houses, locks, offices and the environment generally began to clear, slightly saner images took their place.
There are some technologies that have been around for a while, quietly achieving results that are actually pretty awesome. Reading further, the press release was not about zany telepathic implants, but mainly about medical breakthroughs that are beginning to build the bionic men and women that were the subject of iconic TV (another old fashioned term, we do apologize) programs from the 1970s.
We are probably now at the stage of this technology where we all know someone, or know someone who knows someone, that has benefitted from brain machine interface technology. There is, for instance, someone who has been deaf from birth and can now hear (and went through an extraordinary journey involving a world of chaotic noise and disorientation until after about a year the normal noises that we accept began to make sense).
Controlling prosthetic limbs is another area of extraordinary advance, when tied in to brain control systems. In Japan, they are beginning to use exoskeletons to teach people to walk again. In other areas, people are beginning to be able to sleep better, exercise better, live better because of this technology.
All of this is absolutely brilliant, but there are two things that come to mind.
The first is that this technology must be kept away from the hype fuelled rise of ordinary artificial intelligence (AI). At this point, integrating it with some of the frankly ludicrous AI applications we have seen recently (an automated email eating [surely ‘editing’ – Ed.] tool called Omnivore gets the prize at the moment) would produce very strange results.
The other is an insight into why this quiet technological advance is proving so beneficial and why it might, indeed, be worth $19 billion a year by 2027.
It is because it is being developed the right way round.
A problem or series of problems is being tackled by seeing what technology can bring to the table, as opposed to building a technology and then seeing what problems we can bring to the table.
Those trying to find applications for 5G (and a host of other technologies) might take note.