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Monkeys use thoughts to drive wheelchairs

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Image shows a brain signals on a computer screen.
brain signals of rhesus macaque power wheelchair toward fresh grapes/Shawn Rocco, Duke Health

From Neuroscience News:

Monkeys Drive Wheelchairs Using Only Their Thoughts

Neuroscientists at Duke Health have developed a brain-machine interface (BMI) that allows primates to use only their thoughts to navigate a robotic wheelchair.

The BMI uses signals from hundreds of neurons recorded simultaneously in two regions of the monkeys’ brains that are involved in movement and sensation. As the animals think about moving toward their goal — in this case, a bowl containing fresh grapes — computers translate their brain activity into real-time operation of the wheelchair.

The interface, described in the March 3 issue of the online journal Scientific Reports, demonstrates the future potential for people with disabilities who have lost most muscle control and mobility due to quadriplegia or ALS, said senior author Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., co-director for the Duke Center for Neuroengineering.

In addition to observing brain signals that corresponded to translational and rotational movement, the Duke team also discovered that primates’ brain signals showed signs they were contemplating their distance to the bowl of grapes.

“This was not a signal that was present in the beginning of the training, but something that emerged as an effect of the monkeys becoming proficient in this task,” Nicolelis said. “This was a surprise. It demonstrates the brain’s enormous flexibility to assimilate a device, in this case a wheelchair, and that device’s spatial relationships to the surrounding world.” More.

This raises the question of what thoughts are, exactly. There is motivation involved, not just transfer of electrical impulses.

See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

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Here’s the abstract:

Wireless Cortical Brain-Machine Interface for Whole-Body Navigation in Primates

How does an animal know where it is when it stops moving? Hippocampal place cells fire at discrete locations as subjects traverse space, thereby providing an explicit neural code for current location during locomotion. In contrast, during awake immobility, the hippocampus is thought to be dominated by neural firing representing past and possible future experience. The question of whether and how the hippocampus constructs a representation of current location in the absence of locomotion has been unresolved. Here we report that a distinct population of hippocampal neurons, located in the CA2 subregion, signals current location during immobility, and does so in association with a previously unidentified hippocampus-wide network pattern. In addition, signalling of location persists into brief periods of desynchronization prevalent in slow-wave sleep. The hippocampus thus generates a distinct representation of current location during immobility, pointing to mnemonic processing specific to experience occurring in the absence of locomotion. (Public access) – “A hippocampal network for spatial coding during immobility and sleep” by Kenneth Kay, Marielena Sosa, Jason E. Chung, Mattias P. Karlsson, Margaret C. Larkin and Loren M. Frank in Nature. Published online March 2 2016 doi:10.1038/nature17144

Closer than ever to a monkey writing Shakespeare. Just wait. Mung
Let's just hope that they never learn to fling their poop robotically. Algorithm Eh

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