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Jul 27, 2006, 2:29p - Technology


Watch a video demonstration of how BrainGate works:

UPDATE: June 5, 2006

Cyberkinetics now reports that there have been 3 successful clinical trials of BrainGate - all 3 patients were able, via BrainGate, to to move a cursor on a computer screen with their minds.

And in related news, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry have developed technology that enables them to record thousands of nerve cells in the brain. Specifically, they cultured razor-thin slices of the rat hippocampus (a part of the brain responsible for memory formation) on semiconductor chips, using 16,384 transistors on an area of 1 square mm to record the neural activity in the brain. Read the press release (PDF) or research paper (PDF).

ORIGINAL: Feb 11, 2006

So on the topic of the brain, I found this article from Wired that discusses a recent product developed by Cyberkinetics. The product, called "BrainGate", is a BCI (Brain-Computer Interface), a 10x10 electrode square that is implanted in the motor cortex and enables a person to "move things with their mind". So far, there's been one clinical trial in a human and 22 implanted monkeys; the human has been able to control a computer (play Pong, draw a circle, move a cursor on a computer) as well as move parts of a prosthetic arm with his mind alone.

From the article:

What are you thinking about when you move the cursor? I asked.

"For a while I was thinking about moving the mouse with my hand," Nagle replied. "Now, I just imagine moving the cursor from place to place." In other words, Nagle's brain has assimilated the system. The cursor is as much a part of his self as his arms and legs were.


Other researchers were chasing the same goal. In 2002, Miguel Nicolelis, a neurobiologist at Duke, provided the best evidence yet of the brain's plasticity. He and his team plugged 86 microwires into the brain of a monkey and taught the animal to use a joystick to move an onscreen cursor (the reward: a sip of juice). After the computer had learned to interpret the animal's brain activity, Nicolelis disconnected the joystick. For a while, the monkey kept working it. But he eventually figured it out. The monkey dropped the joystick and stopped moving his arm; the cursor still moved to the target. As the monkey calmly downed another swallow of juice, Nicolelis' lab fell silent in awe. The mammalian brain could assimilate a device - a machine.


At a conference in 2002, Anthony Tether, the director of Darpa, envisioned the military outcome of BCI research. "Imagine 25 years from now where old guys like me put on a pair of glasses or a helmet and open our eyes," Tether said. "Somewhere there will be a robot that will open its eyes, and we will be able to see what the robot sees. We will be able to remotely look down on a cave and think to ourselves, 'Let's go down there and kick some butt.' And the robots will respond, controlled by our thoughts. Imagine a warrior with the intellect of a human and the immortality of a machine."

Read comments (1) - Comment

omar - Feb 15, 2006, 11:16a
it seems we're a long way from controlling fighting robots with our minds.

however, little things might be nice: i'd love to be able to turn down my ipod volume just by thinking about it.

what about the flip side? what discussion is there of the machine having some influence on the brain? can the machine encourage me, for instance, to buy more country music?

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