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A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a direct communication pathway that connects nerve signals in the brain to an external computer. BCIs can be invasive (implanted within or just above the brain), or noninvasive (on the scalp surface). BCIs are used therapeutically to assist, augment or repair human cognitive, sensory or motor functions. Today, it requires training and practice to make BCIs useful and reliable. Research, artificial intelligence and more data, however, will improve this significantly.

Potential near-term applications include the use of BCIs to detect lapses in attention among occupations requiring vigilance, and as a communication tool for those who have lost motor skills but retained cognition. In the future, this technology could be used to improve cognitive functions, to better understand human preferences, and to augment human capabilities such as coordination and response times.

It may even be used to develop senses new to humans, such as the ability to sense magnetic fields, infrared light or radio waves. The digital revolution is the most mature of the four technology groups in this study. Digital technologies and infrastructure provide a foundation that will integrate, network and accelerate the three groups of technologies described above.

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