Elon Musk has a history with drilling holes. First, The Boring Company. Now, Neuralink. Musk wants to drill holes in the brain with the Neuralink’s Brain-Computer interface (BCI). The idea of thought-as-an-interface to the computers has been around for a while. A variety of BCI devices already exist in the market, ranging from medical applications to mood enhancers. With high profile entrepreneurs like Musk and Zuckerberg turning their attention to BCI, it has raised the stakes.
Digital Twins and Brain-Computer interface are emerging technologies in their infancy. Together, they have the potential to help advance the cause of each other. Let’s look at how.
Digital twins are built on the core concept of a digital equivalent for a physical entity. From automotive to agriculture, every enterprise interaction with their customers involves physical entities. Digital twins are paving the path for enterprises to bring the benefits of software world onto the physical assets – providing an opportunity to better serve the needs of the digital customers.
BCI, as the name suggests, is an interface between the brain and a computing device. An external device or an implant reads the brain signals, interprets it and passes it on to control an external activity. On the other side, there is a possibility of downloading content to the brain – to help people see, hear, feel and store information.
Digital Twins & BCI Advancing Together
BCI is a beautiful addition to the composite digital twins’ concept. While BCI will find applications initially in the medical & healthcare sector, other sectors can also enjoy the emerging technology. Interestingly, the combination of BCI and digital twins brings on unique benefits to each other.
Advancing BCI Technology
Beyond the mystical mindfulness and meditation, scientifically, we know little about the brain. BCI is our latest attempt at knowing. How the billions of neurons, hormones and neuro-transmitters come together to create magic, is still a mystery. The intent of BCI technology is to capture the electrical signals from the brain, associate these signals to a particular activity or thought and use it both ways – brain to computer and vice versa. This involves large volumes of data processing, pattern matching and simulations to identify with the outcome.
Given the prognostics and diagnostics’ properties of digital twins, they can serve as a virtual replica of the brain and enable data processing to scenario simulation. With continuous real-time intelligence, Digital twins could serve as a visual aid to understand the mechanics behind the brain and advance the BCI technology.
Cognitive Digital Twins
IBM has proposed a maturity model, where the future digital twins will be autonomous, learn and reason, and self-correct. For digital twins to attain the highest level of cognition, they need to understand how humans operate, take decisions and then mimic it.
BCI can serve as the medium to train the digital twins with human ways-of-working. In return, better decisions taken by digital twins can be routed to the human brain through BCI.
As an emergent technology, BCI will face its hurdles. It will require rigorous testing and trials before viability and mass adoption. Digital twins can serve as the testing and simulation platform for BCI. Using the visualisation and simulation capabilities of digital twins, the workings of BCI can be validated.
Further, digital twins can serve as a time-machine to keep track of the past activities of BCI. This will help in record-keeping and future learning.
BCI may sound dystopian. Humans have accepted devices for other parts of their bodies – external like a prosthetic limb and reading glasses, and internal like a pacemaker and silicone implants. The brain is, however, a virgin territory. Despite scientific advances, humans still don’t fully understand how the brain works for a microorganism, let alone a complex beast like us. Technologies like BCI will come as a boon to many disadvantaged. There will be many ethical, legal and moral hurdles to cross. It is a market projected to grow. According to Grand View Research, the global BCI market size is expected to reach USD 1.72 billion in 2022, growing at a 11.50 per cent CAGR. With the growing interest and time, will digital twins and BCI unravel the mysterious question humanity has ever faced – What is a mind?
This article was first published at Entrepreneur.com