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The VR revolution comes to neural interfaces

VR technology has come a long way. Until the early 2020s, users had to slap on bulky helmets and squeeze into sensor suits. But progress never stands still. The helmets were replaced first by glasses, then lenses. Suits became electrode meshes. Now, in 2050, the industry is undergoing another revolution. Neural interfaces, previously tools for military and medical purposes, are appearing in the video games and entertainment markets.

Since the mid-1990s, scientists have been testing a wide variety of methods for reading the electrical signals that govern human movement and speech, both invasive (such as Neuralink, implanting electrodes directly into the brain) and noninvasive (not requiring surgical intervention, such as electroencephalography (EEG)). The latter saw wider application because not everyone was keen to have a microchip implanted inside their skull.

Developments in the field of VR technology have changed the player–game interaction. Now the user simply dons a headband, gets comfortable, and closes their eyes. The device scans beta, gamma, and other brain rhythms involved in problem-solving and orientation tasks, and converts the wearer’s mental intentions into actions. The headset does not process signals but sends them to a console that decrypts the data.

The chief innovation, however, is not in the reading of brain rhythms (the first human EEG was performed way back in 1924), but in the bidirectional exchange of information. The advanced neural interface sends waves to the brain, transmitting visual, aural, and other sensations to the user. The images and experience generated by the device are not just indistinguishable from reality, they’re unique to each user because they depend on the structure of the brain.

It is this robust two-way communication that makes brain–computer interfaces so attractive to developers and gamers alike, giving the former total creative freedom without technical restrictions, and immersing the latter in make-believe worlds. In this context, even the robbery of a flying train in the skies over Rio de Janeiro doesn’t sound so far-fetched. See for yourself!
 

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Dimitri Guillaume Oui de fou
16 Feb 2020
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