China is racing to set the standards for pioneering brain-machine interface research

China will set up a committee to develop standards for the use of brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, as Beijing increases its focus on future technologies amid growing competition for tech supremacy with the West.

Under a plan issued on Monday by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the public will have until July 30 to submit suggestions for setting up the committee for “the needs of industrial development and industry management”.

The committee will be responsible for devising standards on tasks such as brain information acquisition, preprocessing, encoding and decoding, data communication, and data visualisation.

It will also draft and revise technology application standards in fields such as healthcare, education and consumer electronics, as well as ethical standards for clinical applications.

Committee members will be drawn from industrial and technical firms, research institutes and universities, and relevant government departments, according to the ministry.

BCI technology is an emerging field in which machines and devices are controlled with neural signals. The technology could be used in fields such as medicine, autonomous driving and virtual reality.

China is attempting to close a technology gap with the United States, which has led the way for many years. Chinese tech titans Alibaba Group Holding, the owner of the South China Morning Post, and Tencent Holdings have both formed teams to develop the technology.

The new committee will try to set road maps for the technology by organising research among companies and academia, according to the Monday document.

The body will also be responsible for promoting the implementation of the standards, which brain-computer interface companies will need to meet in their research and development, production, and management.

The Ministry of Science and Technology issued ethical guidelines for the use of BCI in February.

Alibaba Group Holding has formed a team to develop the technology. Photo: Getty Images

BCI has gained widespread attention in recent years, especially after Neuralink, a US company founded by Elon Musk, released a video in 2021 showing a monkey playing a video game with its mind.

Neuralink had faced regulatory hurdles, as US regulators rejected the company’s bid to test brain chips in humans citing safety risks.

BCI, which establishes a direct connection between the brain and external devices, is designed to support interaction between the human brain and computers or other equipment by interpreting neural signals. The technology offers paralysed patients the ability to control computers, prosthetics and other devices through thought alone.

Research into BCI began in the 1960s when scientists first explored how to interpret brainwaves. The field saw significant advances in the 1990s, propelled by improvements in computational power and neuroscience.

Recently, BCI has made considerable progress in the fields of healthcare, entertainment, and human-machine interaction.

Scientists are working to use BCI to help disabled people control prosthetics and for treating neurological disorders.

It could enhance gaming experiences by enabling players to control games with their brainwaves for a greater sense of immersion. Additionally, BCI can create more natural and efficient interaction with electronic devices without the need for physical contact.

In January, a team from Capital Medical University and Tsinghua University announced that they had made “breakthrough progress” with a wireless BCI implant in their first patient. The procedure enabled the quadriplegic to regain movement and grasping abilities in their right hand.

Also in January, Neuralink implanted a BCI device in a man’s brain, allowing him to control a computer mouse with his mind.

Non-invasive BCI technology is finding commercial applications, driving rapid growth in emerging markets like artificial cochlear implants and humanoid robots. According to the China Electronics Standardisation Institute, the global market for brain-computer interfaces is expected to reach US$3.7 billion by 2027.



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