The history of BCI: From a vision for the future to real support for personhood in people with locked-in syndrome

Neuroethics 13 (2):163-180 (2019)
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Abstract

The history of brain-computer interfaces developed from a mere idea in the days of early digital technology to today’s highly sophisticated approaches for signal detection, recording, and analysis. In the 1960s, electroencephalography was tied to the laboratory due to equipment and recording requirements. Today, amplifiers exist that are built in the electrode cap and are so resistant to movement artefacts that data collection in the field is no longer a critical issue. Within 60 years, the field has moved from simple and artefact-sensitive EEG recording to making real the vision of brain-computer communication. In the last 40 years, direct brain-computer interaction went from simple communication programs to sophisticated BCI-controlled applications. In the past two decades, much research was conducted with locked-in individuals, and since the 2010s, independent home use by exemplary patients has been demonstrated. In these patients with locked-in syndrome, BCI were installed at their home and long-term usage was established, resulting in increased quality of life. Maintaining communication in disorders leading to LIS contributes significantly to the patients’ sense of being full persons. BCI as an assistive technology will likely be perceived as integral part of the self: insofar as it can prevent total loss of communication and the ensuing social isolation, it enables essential conditions for the subjective and intersubjective experience of personhood.

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