Wearable brain scanners could transform health & society

The announcement of the development of a wearable brain scanner by a team of researchers from UCL and the University of Nottingham opens up exciting possibilities in the field of medical diagnostics and monitoring. The prototype headset can record the brain activity of a moving subject at millisecond resolution. This means that patients will no longer be required to remain still while having a brain scan. As a result, there is the prospect of new insights into conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s. There’s also the possibility of gaining a better understanding of human consciousness through the opportunity to scan the brains of subjects whilst they interact with others in the world around them.

A better understanding of neural pathways could be invaluable in improving medical diagnosis, for example by allowing pain to be measured and pinpointed more objectively. The company Open Water is developing technology to create a wearable that use opto-electronic technology to image the body and brain at high resolution in real-time to enable constant monitoring.  This has the potential to improve the detection, treatment and prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, internal bleeding, mental diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and many other conditions. There is also the potential for this technology to assist in home diagnostics as part of a connected home medical kit that uses a wide range of wearable sensors to facilitate more comprehensive diagnostics and monitoring.

Going one step further there are some private companies investing in the development of technologies that aim to combine the human brain with machines in order to achieve a brain-computer interface. Companies, including Elon Musk’s Neuralink, are aiming to develop devices that allow for communication via thought. The use of thought-based communication could be a more efficient way of transmitting information since the brain produces about 1 terabyte per a second of information but we can only transmit spoken information to others at a rate of approximately 100 bytes per a second. Developments in thought-based communications could therefore significantly transform the way that we interact with one-another by speeding up the sharing and transfer of knowledge.

A crucial enabler of this technology will be a way to ensure that the vast amount of data being generated by brain-interfacing wearables can be rapidly processed  and analysed in a meaningful way. If a supporting infrastructure to analyse vast quantities of data on human brain activity can be constructed then there is tremendous potential of brain scanning wearables to bring about medical and societal progress. The latest developments in wearable brain scanners also bring the prospect of digitising human consciousness one step closer to fruition.

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