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Research in the area of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) has its roots in assistive technology designed to help people who cannot communicate or who are paralyzed. In essence, a brain-computer interface interprets the signals created when the brain’s neurons fire, allowing a computer to translate these into commands that can be used to control output of one kind or another. Researchers are developing brain-controlled robots that can learn to perform actions for paralytics, and brain-computer interfaces for communicating with sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. While still much the stuff of science fiction, some of the research has been very promising, and the first real BCI products are now coming into the market — with some aimed at consumer use.

Even so, educational applications for brain-computer interfaces remain a long way away. Tasks such as typing or performing basic operations with a robot are tremendously useful for patients who are unable to do those things in any other way, but the actions are too slow to be useful to people generally. Early demonstrations of brain-controlled games show some promise, and a number of researchers and developers are working toward improving the state of the art, but brain-computer interfaces are essentially where augmented reality was several years ago: the equipment is awkward to use, unattractive, and not effective enough to appeal to a wide audience yet.

Currently, brain-computer interfaces are either used in research studies or intended for patient use, with a few consumer applications designed chiefly for games. The assistive qualities of BCI devices may make it possible for patients to study or continue some occupations that they enjoyed before falling ill, but general educational application remains several years away.

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