Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You WILL Be Assimilated

The first step toward the creation of "deep cyborgs" may have been created at Caltech recently. The brain-machine interface pictured below may not look like the bridge to borg-hood, but it doesn't have to impress you. It just needs to work.
This is the 'first robotic approach to establishing an interface between computers and the brain by positioning electrodes in neural tissue.' According to the researchers, their approach 'could enhance the performance and longevity of emerging neural prosthetics, which allow paralyzed people to operate computers and robots with their minds.'

...This research work has been conducted at the Caltech Robotics Burdick Group by a team of engineers led by Michael Wolf, Joel Burdick, his mentor, Jorge Cham and Edward Branchaud.

Here is how Wolf describes the project. "Our approach consists of implanting a small robotic device (and accompanying control algorithm) with many individually-motorized electrodes that each autonomously locate, isolate, and track a neuron for long periods of time. To further complicate matters, we wish to find signals only from neurons dedicated ('tuned') to a particular task, say controlling an 'arm reach.'

..."As the electrodes are driven into the tissue, the software starts taking sample recordings to detect spikes of electrical activity at the electrode tip. When the software detects spikes, it moves forward in small increments and tracks how the signals change. After determining whether the signal has improved or gotten worse, it the algorithm moves the electrode to a new position and does more recording and comparing, driving the electrode in further if necessary until it finds the best signal. If the signal wanes, the algorithm will automatically adjust the electrode position to improve the signal."

The researchers say that they've designed their neuron-tracking algorithm by looking at software used by the U.S. military to track planes. They also say that even if it hasn't been done before, their "robotic interface could increase the life span of neural prosthetics."

This research work will be presented tomorrow at the 2008 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2008) currently held in Pasadena, California (May 19-23, 2008) during a session focused on "Bio-Inspired and Biomedical Robotics" under the name "A Miniature Robot for Isolating and Tracking Neurons in Extracellular Cortical Recordings." __Primidi
Here is the abstract .
Link to IEEE Spectrum article
PDF document of earlier (2005) presentation of concept

As brain-machine interfaces become more sophisticated and capable of two-way interaction, the possibility of humans controlling machines has to be seen alongside the possibility of machines controlling humans.