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NeuroJavaScript — Reading the Human Brain

Alex Castillo (@castillo__io) is a software engineer at Netflix with roots from the Dominican Republic. He might sound like a typical engineer, but in his spare time, Alex works on NeuroJavaScript. His work on the human brain through the OpenBCI project (Open Brain Computer Interface) could save your life one day. In fact, his software has already been used by doctors to visualize neurofeedback during surgical procedures.

Before recent years, meaningful research of the human brain had been restricted to scientists and doctors. Main reasons for this were high entry costs, lack of access to equipment, and limited education on how to get started. Historically, EEG sensors that detect electrical activity in your brain, for example, cost at least $30,000 alone.

Now, an affordable solution has emerged and it’s called OpenBCI. OpenBCI is an open source brain computer interface that provides hardware and software to anyone who would like to experiment with the technology.

There has never been the opportunity for engineers, artists, or anyone expressing interest to be able to study the human body in a way that can make an impact to science and the medical industry. OpenBCI allows anyone interested to purchase biosensors and headgear needed to extract data from the human body. This, paired with technologies like JavaScript, data visualization, and machine learning provide a gateway into changing the world of science and medicine.

Though OpenBCI is technology agnostic and can be used with any language (C, python, java, etc), Alex has coined the term NeuroJavaScript as a way to advocate the work he has been doing in with OpenBCI for the JavaScript community.

“OpenBCI makes working with science as easy as interacting with another API for JavaScript developers. Scientists working on the human brain already understand the science, and the JavaScript industry is full of smart and passionate people who are able to help develop science with technology to advance findings even further. We as technologists can now acquire science, but because we are not scientists, we are able to approach the same problem in a different way. This hopefully allows us to solve problems in ways the world has yet to imagine.”

By making technology available to the masses and allowing makers and innovators who are not extremely focused on specific areas like brain research, we are able to push forward the technology and grow it so we can learn more about the human brain and help contribute to the medical industry. The vision and hope is to be able to diagnose diseases faster than before, identify patterns in the human brain and how it works, and, as Alex says, “tap into this ocean of energy and data from our own bodies”.

NeuroJavaScript is still a new concept and could use more open source contributors. Currently, work is being done to visualize brainwaves in the web browser, but we are not far from being able to understand human emotion through these sensors. Imagine diagnosing diseases by filtering brain waves in a way that allows us to identify certain diseases. Imagine a world where you can detect diseases early because the technology is accessible in your home. A world where people who are bipolar can understand what triggers their brain to change.

Tools, technology, and equipment that have been created with OpenBCI are already being used in the medical field today. One story tells of how a doctor used the sensors around the eyes of a surgery patient so he could determine during the surgery whether or not what he was doing was affecting the nerves. The electric signals allowed him to perform the surgery better.

We haven’t even begun to tap into the potential and groundbreaking medical shakeup that is about to happen with OpenBCI leading the charge. The emerging projects are set to disrupt the medical market in a good way that tinkering engineers may not even understand. Most engineers care about technology and making the world a better place versus how much money they can make selling large machines to hospitals. This altruistic view by itself changes the market dynamics in a positive way.

Alex works closely on NeuroJavaScript with neuroscientists that have been doing work with OpenBCI to help push this ecosystem forward. If you are someone who has technology expertise but does not have a science background, this is a great place to start.

“I am passionate about being able to help people and using cutting edge technology to make an impact on the world”.

You can get involved by following NeuroJavaScript and OpenBCI on github and by visiting the OpenBCI community page. There is a technology agnostic community where anyone interested can see all the things that other people have done for inspiration.