Brain-computer interfaces remain a hard sell despite tech advancements

Researchers recently translated neural signals associated with handwriting into text for the first time, per Nature, a big step forward for the emerging field of neural input technologies. Through a brain-computer interface (BCI), researchers at BrainGate were able to decode a paralyzed man’s neural inputs into text using only the thoughts he produced when asked to imagine he was writing using pen and paper. The study claims this method was nearly twice as fast as other BCIs that rely on virtual keyboards and mice.

Brain-computer interfaces and neural inputs are slowly starting to move beyond the confines of academia and toward the consumer market. Late last year, Paris-based startup NextMind began shipping its real-time, noninvasive BCI Dev Kit, which it claims allows users to control VR headsets and other devices with their minds. More recently, brain computing startup Neurable announced its long-awaited debut product, a pair of headphones with sensors that track users’ focus and productivity. Overall, the BCI market is growing: Acumen Research forecasts the global brain-computer interface market will reach a market valuation of $3.48 billion by 2027.

Neural inputs could catalyze a paradigm shift in human-computer interaction…if consumers actually want it. Facebook is among the most prominent believers that neural inputs, combined with AR, will usher in “the next era of human-computer interaction.” Yet, as tech companies rush toward the promising horizon of the new age, they are simultaneously hemorrhaging trust among consumers, as myriad surveys and polls make clear. That distrust transcends national borders, as demonstrated in Edelman’s 2021 Trust in Technology report, which found trust in tech reached an all-time low in 17 of 27 surveyed markets worldwide. This trust deficit poses a major problem for tech companies looking to persuade users to adopt interfaces which, by design, require access to troves of sensitive neurological data. If such a paradigm shift is ever to occur, tech leaders will first need to work to regain the trust of their users through transparency, accountability, and stronger privacy protections.