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If I ever become a vegetable, hook me up to a computer!

The BBC reports that new research, carried out in the UK and Belgium, involved using an fMRI brain scan to assess whether vegetative patients could answer yes or no questions. Astoundingly, awareness was detected in three patients previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. What’s interesting to me is, I thought we’d come a lot farther that this already! Why are very expensive fMRI machines being used in such a crude manner, and are basically only able to detect yes/no answers when the whole concept of brain/machine interfaces has been around for a very long time.

Emotiv activity map

Why aren’t doctors, or even family members of injured/vegetative patients looking into things like Brainfingers, or even the Emotiv gamer headset?! At the time of this post, you can get an Emotiv headset with sample software for only $300, which should enable you to do all sorts of things with an aware but vegetative person. There are also developer SDKs which are cheap compared to medical fMRI scans, and give you all kinds of access to raw data streams coming from the headset. What could be done with this now very cheap hardware and available software is simply jaw dropping… yet nobody seems to be picking up the ball and really running with it.

Luckily, things are really getting serious now. You remember the X Prize, the astoundingly successful approach to achieving technical goals through crowd sourced competitive prizes… the very thing that took us from dreaming about civilian space flight in 50-100 years to really expecting to take a trip myself in the next 10-15… those guys are looking into creating the BCI X Prize; The brain computer interface challenge. Things are bound to get really interesting, really quickly. What an amazing time to live in!

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