China Unveils Homegrown Brain-Computer Interface Technology

In a remarkable demonstration at the recent Zhongguancun Forum (ZGC Forum) in Beijing, a Chinese company showcased a groundbreaking achievement in brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. NeuCyber NeuroTech, in collaboration with the Chinese Institute for Brain Research, presented a “homegrown” BCI system that allowed a monkey to control a robotic arm using only its thoughts, highlighting China’s progress in developing its own BCI technology and competing with the West in this field.

Monkey Controls Robotic Arm with Thoughts

The video footage shown at the event depicted a restrained monkey utilizing the NeuCyber Array BMI System to manipulate a robotic arm and grasp a strawberry. According to state-run news media outlet Xinhua, the system involves soft electrode filaments implanted directly into the brain.

While researchers in the United States have tested similar systems in paralyzed individuals to facilitate robotic arm control, China is rapidly closing the gap. William Hannas, lead analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), acknowledges that China is doing “state-of-the-art work, or at least as advanced as anybody else in the world.”

China’s interest in noninvasive BCIs for the general population has raised concerns, with a report released by CSET in March examining Chinese research on BCIs for nonmedical purposes.

Implications for US National Security

The potential implications of China’s BCI advancements on US national security have been a topic of discussion. Margaret Kosal, associate professor of international affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology, argues that China is more likely to widely adopt BCI technologies in the commercial and military sectors due to its government structure, sociocultural norms, and the close alignment of its neuroscience research goals with its military goals.

Justin Sanchez, a technical fellow at the nonprofit research organization Battelle, emphasizes the importance of the US staying competitive in the BCI race. “If we do not understand the medical uses and have those technologies available here in the United States, then the control goes somewhere else, and the same holds true on the national security side,” he states.

China's Roadmap for BCI Industry Development

As China continues to make strides in BCI technology, the potential applications span various sectors, including medicine, healthcare, industrial safety, education, sports, and smart life. Beijing has charted a roadmap for accelerating the development of its BCI industry, aiming to achieve breakthroughs in core technologies and cultivate leading enterprises by 2026.

By 2030, China plans to have an independently well-developed technology system of BCI, nurturing hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises in the industry and forming an industrial cluster in Beijing. The city will strengthen the integrated innovation of key technologies, enrich the supply of BCI products, and build a coordinated development of industrial ecology.

The Race for BCI Supremacy

The demonstration of the NeuCyber Array BMI System at the ZGC Forum in Beijing showcases China’s significant progress in developing its own BCI technology. As the country continues to invest in and advance this field, the global landscape of BCI is set to evolve in the coming years.

With potential applications spanning medical, commercial, and military sectors, the implications of China’s BCI advancements on US national security have become a point of concern. As the race for BCI supremacy intensifies, it remains crucial for the United States to stay competitive and maintain its position at the forefront of this pioneering technology.