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Much of the focus of this report is on emerging technology and potential future uses. However, it is worth considering the current state of the art to better understand what is meant by some of the definitions and what technologies are likely to be discussed in the scenarios.45 For example non-invasive (non-implanted) read technologies may include the following:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG) technology measures electrical activity in the brain. It is increasingly commonplace across a variety of hardware devices, enabling more affordable and easy access. This technology may be embedded within wearable safety equipment such as helmets or more discreet headbands, and is popular in the employment and gaming sectors. Many consumer offerings are not clinical grade technologies and offer more coarse (lower) recording quality.
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology measures blood flow to the brain. It offers greater accuracy than EEG devices, but historically requires large and expensive equipment, often limiting it to lab-based uses. However, recent developments in portable MRI may result in near-future changes in portability and affordability.
  • Electromyography (EMG) devices detect electrical activity in muscles. They can be either invasive or non-invasive, with non-invasive devices being as discreet as a wristband.
  • Near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) offers a non-invasive measure and allows analysis of blood oxygen flow to various regions, of the brain by shining an infrared light onto the surface of the skull.
  • Electromyography (EMG) devices can be either invasive or non-invasive but can be worn as a wristband to detect electrical activity in muscles.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) utilizes a figure eight shaped magnet placed above the head to stimulate and inhibit areas of both superficial and deep structures of the brain.
  • Future technologies such as optogenetics offer a new way to record neurodata using light, rather than electricity. This remains cutting edge and lab based for the foreseeable future, as do other technologies, such as neurodust and neural laces.

Invasive (implanted) neurotechnologies that can read and stimulate can include the following:

  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) in an invasive neurotechnology, using electrodes implanted deep within the brain to treat Parkinson’s, Tourette’s and epilepsy, with further research on treatment for obesity and intractable depression46.
  • Electrocorticography (ECoG) uses electrodes attached directly to the brain to track and analyse activity in the cerebral cortex and often provide short-term medical support rather than long-term treatment.
  • Cortical implants are directly implanted into the cortex and are used to stimulate neuroactivity, although they are limited to lab-based research at this time. Microelectrode arrays (MEA) use a small grid of electrodes, often smaller than the size of a small coin, implanted directly on the surface of the brain to offer recording and stimulation of the brain to enable connection to prosthetics devices. As well as being invasive, these may well be closed loop read-write devices.

45 This is a sample of available technologies; many others exist in both research areas and in treatments but are not dealt with here due to the lack of novel privacy implications. For a wider survey see:

46 iHuman Neural Interfaces Perspective (