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What is a brain-computer interface?

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A brain-computer interface is a communication pathway that links the brain to an external computing device. It is designed to augment and assist human sensory, motor and cognitive functions. Research and development of brain-computer interfaces focuses on correcting abnormal movement, sight or hearing.

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A brain-computer interface mediates the transmission of signals from the brain to direct and control external activities, such as movement of a prosthetic limb. It reads signals from brain neurons using programs and computer chips, then translates those signals into a specific action. It can enable a paralyzed person to control a wheelchair or write a book and is also used in robotics.

This technology works because it's aligned with the way the brain functions. Every time a person thinks, remembers, moves or feels, brain neurons are active. Researchers study these neurons and the transmission of impulses along them to develop brain-computer interface programs. According to HowStuffWorks, one of the biggest challenges of brain-computer research is finding methods to create the interface that don't involve invasive surgery or less effective electrode devices. For example, neuroimaging is being used in brain-computer interface research because it's less invasive.

Ethical and legal issues associated with the application of brain-computer interface technology also arise, including informed consent, risk-benefit analysis, personality alterations, privacy, mind-reading and its use in interrogation.

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