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Faster Typing With the Brain, Including Error Correction

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Neuroscientists at Stanford University have developed a technique that continuously corrects brain readings, resulting in a more precise way to type using a thought-controlled cursor. The researchers found that their technique is nearly as good as one-finger typing. Promising results have been obtained with monkeys, and a pilot clinical trial for human use is underway.

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The research is published in Nature Communications with the title “Single-trial dynamics of motor cortex and their applications to brain-machine interfaces.” The research paper is freely available online.

A Fundamentally New Approach to Brain-Machines interfaces

Brain-Machine InterfaceCurrent brain-controlled prostheses such as thought-controlled keypads try to estimate motor commands that involve millions of neurons, but can sample only a few hundred neurons. So errors in the sample, for example false readings from neurons that fire too fast or too slow, reduce the precision and speed of the brain readout process. The technique developed by the Standord neuroscientists analyzes the neuron sample and makes corrective adjustments to the estimate of the brain’s electrical pattern in realtime.

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The Stanford researchers performed hundreds of experiments to analyze and model the brain dynamics that underlies hand and finger motion on a keypad, for example the neural activity that corresponds to hitting a key. The brain dynamics models were used to tweak the signals measured from the sampled neurons to adapt them to the best matching models and make the thought-controlled prosthetic more precise.

“These brain dynamics are analogous to rules that characterize the interactions of the millions of neurons that control motions,” said first author Jonathan Kao, a doctoral student in electrical engineering. “They enable us to use a tiny sample more precisely.”

“Our neural observations are both low-resolution (on the order of hundreds of electrodes) and noisy (with the arrival of action potentials being Poisson-like),” note the scientists in the research paper. “However, a recent body of literature hypothesizes that analogous dynamical laws, describing how the activity of population of neurons evolves through time, exist in motor cortex. These dynamics characterize how the neural population activity modulates itself over time (for example, through recurrent connectivity) so that the neural population activity at time k is informative of the population activity at time k+1.”

This dynamical estimation should result in more accurate neural state trajectories than could be inferred by merely smoothing the observations without knowledge of neural dynamics.

Thought controlled keypads allow patients with paralysis or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) to run an electronic wheelchair and use a computer or tablet.

“Brain-controlled prostheses will lead to a substantial improvement in quality of life,” said team leader Krishna Shenoy, a Stanford professor of electrical engineering. “The speed and accuracy demonstrated in this prosthesis results from years of basic neuroscience research and from combining these scientific discoveries with the principled design of mathematical control algorithms.”

BMI - monkey

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave Shenoy’s team the green light to conduct a pilot clinical trial of its thought-controlled cursor on people with spinal cord injuries. “This is a fundamentally new approach that can be further refined and optimized to give brain-controlled prostheses greater performance and therefore greater clinical viability,” Shenoy said.

The error correction technique developed by the Stanford researchers is likely to permit improving the speed of Brain-Machines interfaces (BMIs) and find applications to consumer BMI systems – for example brain-controlled games – as well.

Images from Stanford University and Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Сурен Акопов

    August 5, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Made device for reading human thoughts / human mind reading machine / Brain Computer Interface. Discovery is not published. I invite partnership. Thank you. Сурен Акопов. ( Syren Akopov ).

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Medicine

Elon Musk Hints at Advances in ‘Neural Lace’ Brain Hacking Tech

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Visionary and sometimes controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk hinted at advances in next-generation brain hacking. Recent research results promise future “neural lace” technology that could enhance our brains and connect them to the cloud.

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Artificial Intelligence

The Possibilities and the Future of Brain Hacking

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For all of man’s scientific and technological advances, the human brain largely remains a mystery. A new Vimeo video, “Master/Mind,” examines the state of research on the human mind and the questions that scientists, ethicists, futurists and others are asking in light of what we’re learning about the mind. The video, a Vimeo Staff Pick, consists of a series of comments from scientists, technologist, futurists and ethicists.

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Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are developing so rapidly that many people are wondering if some day, man will no longer harness science but rather be controlled by it. As this question weighs heavily on peoples’ mind, there has been a focus on understanding the human brain.

The central issue the video explores is: New technologies are beginning to unlock the brain’s true potential, but at what cost to our humanity?

“We can identify galaxies light years away, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears,” President Obama states at the outset of the video’s journey.

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The video shows a recent news report that scientists are seeing neurons change in real-time as events are “recorded” in the brain.

An Organ Of Surreal Complexity

“This is an organ of surreal complexity, and we are just beginning to understand how to even study it,” says Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Sebastian Seung, Ph.D., Princeton Neuroscience Institute professor of computer science, says scientists have speculated that human memories, “the information that makes you, you,” are stored in the connections between the brain’s neurons.

The video examines various approaches to the study of the brain, from the universities to self-taught technology geeks.

The brain consists of 86 billion neurons and the neurons are connected via synapses and other matter. It’s a vast network of connections.

Scientists think synapses record what happens when someone learns something. The video shows what appear to be synapse images.

EEG Detects Brain’s Electrical Activity

Joel Murphy, co-founder of a technology consultancy called OpenBCI, sought to create a low-cost, open source electroencephalography (EEG) system that detects electrical activity in the brain. His partner, Conor Russomanno, found a “how to hack EEG’s” tutorial and was able to do it in one day. “I think everybody is interested in the brain these days,” Russomanno says. Technologies are emerging allowing us to tap in and “figure out what’s going on in there.”

The video examines the laboratory research using electrodes that attach to the human body and allow scientists to monitor fluctuations in electrical activity. Scientists are trying to understand the meaning of these frequencies and relate them to things that people perceive or experience in their everyday lives.

“I think brain computer interfaces are going to be instrumental in human evolution,” Russomanno says.

“Conceivably you could image your brain every two weeks and you would never lose more than two weeks of your experience,” says Russell Hanson, Ph.D., founder of a firm called Brain Backups.

Science Versus Ethics

The video also explores the tension between ethics and science.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of New York University (NYU) division of medical ethics, says myths throughout history are cautionary about going too far with human knowledge. But in modern times, people have been wondering about controlling new power, be it medical or physics. If we talk about modifying the brain, people worry about losing their identities, Caplan says.

In recent years, science has considered how technology can enhance human capability, such as wearable technology.

Futurist and inventor Raymond Kurzweil says thinking will be a hybrid, biological and non-biological.

Nick Bostrom, Ph.D., author and philosopher, says machine intelligence is the last invention that will need to be made. Machines will eventually be better at inventing than humans. “Once there is super intelligence, the fate of humanity may depend on what this super-intelligence does,” he says.

“Once they go in there (the brain) and tinker, what they are eventually going to do is very crude control and mostly destruction,” says Peter Breggin, M.D., a psychiatrist. “It’s the seat of our humanity, and that’s what they’re tampering with.”

Also read: Research Priorities for Artificial Intelligence — open letter

What Makes Us Human?

A narrator notes near the end of the video that man does not have the ability to do what he is doing if it wasn’t intended in the first place. From the beginning of time, man has worked to control the environment.

“We develop technology to improve the human experience,” Russomanno says. “Whatever we turn into or whatever we become, we need to make sure that we’re still human.”

“It seems to me the brain alterations are closer to changing who we are, so we have to be careful about what we want to be,” Caplan of NYU says.

“What is it about the human brain that could potentially never be replicated artificially?” asks Lydia Fazzio, M.D., founder of biohackers NYC. “To be human is to incorporate a bit of the erratic, of the unpredictable, and that is what I hope continues.”

Image from Shutterstock.

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Neurotech

Researchers Link Human Brains for Questions and Answers Game

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University of Washington researchers used a direct brain-to-brain connection to enable pairs of participants to play a question-and-answer game by transmitting signals from one brain to the other over the Internet. The experiment is thought to be the first to show that two brains can be directly linked to allow one person to guess what’s on another person’s mind.

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