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Connecting cortex to machines: recent advances in brain interfaces


Recent technological and scientific advances have generated wide interest in the possibility of creating a brain–machine interface (BMI), particularly as a means to aid paralyzed humans in communication. Advances have been made in detecting neural signals and translating them into command signals that can control devices. We now have systems that use externally derived neural signals as a command source, and faster and potentially more flexible systems that directly use intracortical recording are being tested. Studies in behaving monkeys show that neural output from the motor cortex can be used to control computer cursors almost as effectively as a natural hand would carry out the task. Additional research findings explore the possibility of using computers to return behaviorally useful feedback information to the cortex. Although significant scientific and technological challenges remain, progress in creating useful human BMIs is accelerating.

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Figure 1: The organization of a brain–machine interface (BMI).
Figure 2: Examples of intracortical electrode arrays under development.


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The author would like to acknowledge support from the NIH/NINDS, DARPA and the Keck Foundation.

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The author is a cofounder and shareholder in Cyberkinetics, Inc., a company that is developing neural prosthetic devices.

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Donoghue, J. Connecting cortex to machines: recent advances in brain interfaces. Nat Neurosci 5 (Suppl 11), 1085–1088 (2002).

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