Science... Messing with the Brain Again

Does the thought of technology anticipating brain signals trouble anybody out there? Think about how many times your Microsoft Outlook e-mail has “anticipated” the e-mail address you’re trying to type in.

University of Florida officials have devised a way for “computerized devices not only to translate brain signals into movement but also to evolve with the brain as it learns.” This is a step beyond previous brain-machine gadgets that allow paralyzed patients and amputees to control prosthetics using nothing more than brain waves.

“In the grand scheme of brain-machine interfaces, this is a complete paradigm change,” said Justin C. Sanchez, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of pediatric neurology and the study’s senior author. “This idea opens up all kinds of possibilities for how we interact with devices. It’s not just about giving instructions but about those devices assisting us in a common goal. You know the goal, the computer knows the goal and you work together to solve the task.”

Here at MDNG, we are BIG believers in healthcare technology. Really, we are. But does the thought of technology anticipating brain signals trouble anybody out there? Think about how many times your Microsoft Outlook e-mail has “anticipated” the e-mail address you’re trying to type in, with often hilarious or damaging results. Now we’re relying on chips and sensors to anticipate brain waves? The mind reels at the possibilities.

The research design itself was fascinating. According to a UF release, rats were fitted with brain electrodes and “taught to move a robotic arm toward a target with only their thoughts. Each time they succeeded, the rats were rewarded with a drop of water.” The computer was assigned a points system, with higher points achieved for moving the robotic arm closer to a target. “The researchers conducted several tests with the rats, requiring them to hit targets that were farther and farther away. Despite this increasing difficulty, the rats completed the tasks more efficiently over time and did so at a significantly higher rate than if they had just aimed correctly by chance, Sanchez said.”

Beyond the obvious applications for amputees, Florida researchers hope the research has larger applicability to how the brain functions alongside technology. For more on this, see the resources below:

Brain Input Aids Devices That Move Injured Or Artificial Limbs

Human-Assisted Neural Devices

Woman with Bionic Arm Regains Sense of Touch