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Japan's Cyborg Research Enters the Skull 120

RemyBR writes "Researchers at Osaka University are stepping up efforts to develop robotic body parts controlled by thought, by placing electrode sheets directly on the surface of the brain. The research marks Japan's first foray into invasive (i.e. requiring open-skull surgery) brain-machine interface research on human test subjects. The aim of the research is to develop real-time mind-controlled robotic limbs for the disabled. 'To date, the researchers have worked with four test subjects to record brain wave activity generated as they move their arms, elbows and fingers. Working with Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), the researchers have developed a method for analyzing the brain waves to determine the subject's intended activity to an accuracy of greater than 80%.'"
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Japan's Cyborg Research Enters the Skull

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  • Wouldn't it be easier to place the electrodes on the peripheral nerves that would normally have controlled the missing limb? Surely, that would be preferable to opening the skull...
    • by Post-O-Matron ( 1273882 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:13PM (#23109164)
      Yes but that way they won't be able to do any research about mind control techniques.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It might be easier, but it won't give near as fine-grained control as this method would provide.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        And this method has other uses. Such as giving people limbs they never had.
        Military grant for a soldier with a 3rd arm for a minigun anyone? Anyone at all?
      • by gringer ( 252588 )

        It might be easier, but it won't give near as fine-grained control as this method would provide.

        I'm not convinced about that. The brain has an amazing ability to adapt to new functional changes, for example, rerouting neuronal cell connections and growing more cells after damage. These changes happen at the brain, but they can influence information transfer to nerves all over the body. If you admit that it is possible to learn how to type words [with a low error rate] with your toes, then it shouldn't be much of a stretch to realise that the brain is able to adapt to — and get progressively f

        • Sure, you can get progressively finer control over time through the peripheral nerves, but never anything to the extent you will get by just hooking up straight to the brain. It's ultimately a trade off between how much of a fine-grained control you want versus the invasiveness of the prosthetic.
          • Also, I'm betting that peripheral motor nerves are very hard to find, isolate, and attach an electrode to without completely destroying it. The axons of the motor neurons are small and sensitive to damage, I would assume if you surgically dug one up in the arm, that alone would cause the axon to undergo wallerian degeneration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallerian_degeneration) and the connection would be no good. I know there are very small electrodes out there, but I think that making the connection mig
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But how then will they create that jack in the back of your neck that connects you to the internet
    • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:14PM (#23109178) Journal
      how exactly would that help people whose nerve connections between their limbs and their brain have been severed? that is a lot of the reason why cybernetics/prosthetics are being researched after all.
      • They are entirely being researched, by other people not mentioned in this article. Some really good breakthroughs in prostetics recently, with sensors that can tell when a muscle is being tensed, even if todesn't do anything, to use that to drive servos in an arm. Gives a reasonbly good way to let someone control a prostetic arm.
    • by Missing_dc ( 1074809 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:33PM (#23109422)
      "Wouldn't it be easier to place the electrodes on the peripheral nerves that would normally have controlled the missing limb? Surely, that would be preferable to opening the skull..."

      I was a little more focused on the "greater than 80% accuracy bit" especially with the potential strength enhancements...

      Nothing like playing Japanese roulette when you shake the leftover urine from your plumbing.

      " OH GOD, NOT AGAIN!!"

      unless of course you could get a fully functional replacement for it.

      "hey baby, you up for a little interactive machine love?"

      On the other hand, it would probably run linux.
      • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:32PM (#23110288)

        On the other hand, it would probably run linux.

        On the upside, there's the vastly improved uptime...

      • But then you would have to get used to shaking with your OTHER hand... (haha, get what I did there?)

        "No matter how much you shake and dance, that last bit of dribble goes down your pants."
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Rashdot ( 845549 )
        > On the other hand, it would probably run linux.

        I guess that's going to impact the 80% rate, one hand running Windows and the other running Linux...
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by vegiVamp ( 518171 )
        > On the other hand, it would probably run linux.

        Of course. Can you imagine running MS software on that ?

        "Oh god no, not bluescreen, not now ! I'm so sorry darling, this has never happened before..."
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      When their axons are damaged, neurons degenerate. The next neuron 'up the chain' is in the spinal cord, and these neurons are not well arranged - we wouldn't be able to tell which neurons were supposed to supply which muscles, and even if we could they are on the inside of the cord. The surface of the brain, however, is easily accessable. They can make recordings from the brain for different activities without knowing exactly which neurons are being activated - all we know is that, as a whole, the person
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Your idea is being pursued in other lines of research. Medically, it's better to be less invasive, and technically you want the best control signal. Using the peripheral nerves is advantageous on both fronts. However, it does no good for those patients who have spinal trauma and don't have functioning peripheral nerves. Then you need to learn how to use central signals to control the prosthesis.
  • by zedlander ( 1271502 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:12PM (#23109154) Homepage
    I give it about 2 months until they come up with a gameshow using the new technology.
  • by Rifle_001 ( 1177745 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:13PM (#23109158)
    Open brain surgery and mind controlled robot, dangerous? pff! That doesn't sound dangerous at all!
    • I was actually a test subject. I have to say ... it's ... not ... dangerous! You ... all ... should ... try ... it. Domo arigato!
      • by Eastree ( 719351 )
        >I was actually a test subject. I have to say ... it's ... not ... dangerous! You ... all ... should ... try ... it. Domo arigato!

        You make a good point, Mr. Roboto.
  • Which provides the greater threat to civilization: Dr. Octupus (insidious human intelligence in control of super, robotically enhanced strength) or Skynet (insidious artificial intelligence in control of super, robotically enhanced strength)?

    Just make sure to say no if one these subjects starts asking for more tritium!
  • by The_Angry_Canadian ( 1156097 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:15PM (#23109190)
    If you think you would definitely slap that ass, your limb will actually do it. Woops.
    • The article linked to doesn't go into whether/how much they've looked at thoughts about movement with no movement intended. Recent research has shown that when you're thinking about doing an activity, the same motor neurons light up as when you actually do it. Even watching someone else do the activity has an effect.

      Hopefully they've thought of this already, but I could totally see them getting bogged down in studies of the nature "Ok, try to pick up cup A, now cup B" etc and overlooking what the device w

      • Dreaming about turning a doorknob, and your cybernetic arm gives you the worst nipple twist of your life. Yeah, I can see that as being a drawback.
      • and overlooking what the device would do during the rest of the time when you're NOT picking up a cup.
        That was my first thought:
        tests subjects first dream where the wrestle a bear, upon waking discovers his robotic arms have torn his pillows to shreds!
        • That was my first thought:
          tests subjects first dream where the wrestle a bear, upon waking discovers his robotic arms have torn his pillows to shreds!


          And this is why our brain produces chemicals to actually inhibit our body's muscles during sleep.
          • by cp.tar ( 871488 )

            That was my first thought: tests subjects first dream where the wrestle a bear, upon waking discovers his robotic arms have torn his pillows to shreds!

            And this is why our brain produces chemicals to actually inhibit our body's muscles during sleep.

            Despite those chemicals, I tend to twitch: if I dream of running, my legs twitch; if I do something with my arms, my arms twitch — I start the movement, but then stop it.

            I only noticed it a few times when half asleep, but my gf says it happens quite a lot when I sleep.

            • Despite those chemicals, I tend to twitch: if I dream of running, my legs twitch; if I do something with my arms, my arms twitch — I start the movement, but then stop it.

              I only noticed it a few times when half asleep, but my gf says it happens quite a lot when I sleep.

              night movements in relation to your dreams can be really scary. What if you have a 'great' dream that involves her?
          • by Nullav ( 1053766 )
            Yes, but what about a mechanical arm reading directly from the brain?
            • Direct neural interfaces currently use new, learned brain patterns (neuroplasticity is a wonderful thing) for control, rather than attempt to read the actual impulses used to control the muscles when you still had them. Hopefully this means that any attempted muscle control while asleep will go through the old pathways, and not trigger the new patterns. Or you could just turn the thing off when you go to sleep.
          • So that's why I can't get up in the mornings! Now I have an excuse!
      • Most prior research with this stuff has shown that it is easier to learn a "new" set of patterns than it is to try and figure out what the impulses for the old set were.

        As long as the sensors are able to recognize specific thought patterns, it's reasonable to expect that an unimpaired brain could learn to generate the appropriate signals to produce the desired effect.
    • That's the perfect excuse: "It's not me! It's my robotic arm!

      ...Would you like to try my joystick?"
      • by Eccles ( 932 )
        But then you would go to a zoo, and you just know that any given moment, *someone* is thinking about spanking the monkey...
    • I would be more worried about whether or not such technology increases your susceptibility to powers of suggestion.

      For example:
      "Don't think about a beowulf cluster of 1,000 supercomputers all wasting their computing power on a single game of Tetris."

      I mean, with a machine directly connected to your brain, and the most assuredly increased levels of stress you'd be under, I'd say that there's a significant risk of someone being inadvertently controlled, either by voice or by commercial, or something more sini
  • Sweet! (Score:5, Funny)

    by SailorSpork ( 1080153 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:17PM (#23109210) Homepage
    Does that mean I can finally get a robotic prehensile tail installed? Or will they only work on installing "replacement" parts that are "supposed" to be there?
    • I quite agree. We apes really lost out when that particular trait went away. We're the flightless birds of the primates.
    • Actually quite possible, altho not likely to happen for a while. These things work by means of neuroplasticity, ie. the brain learns to send out specific signals that the device can interpret. Should be just as easy (that is, not very) to set up completely new stuff.
  • by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:18PM (#23109242)

    I think the most interesting thing about research like this is, not only the technology behind the interface, but the fact that the brain it self will adapt to use the new interface.

    The basic concept of the brain is it's ability to create pathways to 'memorize' an action. This is why a right handed person can learn to write with the left hand. In the same way the brain can learn how to manipulate the interface and thus create new pathways to make it an innate action
  • I for one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hansraj ( 458504 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:26PM (#23109344)
    am really excited about such research, mostly because it brings us another step closer to the day when we can even enhance our brains (and physical capabilities) using machines.

    It makes me wonder if physically and mentally challenged people are going to be the most important players in our meta-evolution into a man-machine hybrid. After all people would naturally freak out at first if someone suggested using this kind of technology on healthy humans to "enhance" them, because the idea is alien and it is natural to be scared of the unknown. But once this kind of technology is mainstream and is used routinely to bring at par people who would otherwise be seriously challenged, then much of the fear would be quelled. The next obvious step would be to lower the bar of what constitutes "challenged".

    Too bad I might be dead before they figure out how to interface a "google chip" of sorts and all the knowledge known to mankind is just a thought away.
    • Re:I for one (Score:5, Informative)

      by Eccles ( 932 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:38PM (#23109492) Journal
      I already have a bionic wife. She's hearing-impaired, and has a cochlear implant. Currently the speech processor is still external, but you could imagine an internal one run off of the body's energy.

      Occasionally I envy her ability to turn it off. But I really want bionic eyes with zoom, split-screen, and picture-taking ability.
      • "I really want bionic eyes with zoom, split-screen, and picture-taking ability."

        well that's cute but think of the possibilites of an x-ray vision!! grrrr!
    • Yeah but imganine how bad a rick roll would be in your head.
    • by pellik ( 193063 )
      Bookworm, Run!
    • Too bad I might be dead before they figure out how to interface a "google chip" of sorts and all the knowledge known to mankind is just a thought away.
      Pub-quiz and TV quiz masters the land over are currently lining up private investigators and hitmen to take you out
    • by Nullav ( 1053766 )

      Too bad I might be dead before they figure out how to interface a "google chip" of sorts and all the knowledge known to mankind is just a thought away.
      If something like that ever comes to exist, I want a better link repository than Google. Just imagine what would happen if groups started gaming search engines to spread misinformation. Influencing popular thought would be easier than ever.
  • by blcamp ( 211756 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:33PM (#23109420) Homepage

    "This will feel... a little weird."

    • The Warrior's bland acronym, MMI, obscures the true horror of this monstrosity. Its inventors promise a new era of genius, but meanwhile unscrupulous power brokers use its forcible installation to violate the sanctity of unwilling human minds. They are creating their own private army of demons.

      -- Commissioner Pravin Lal,
      "Report on Human Rights"

      I think, and my thoughts cross the barrier into the synapses of the machine, just as the good doctor intended. But what I cannot shake, and what hints at things to co
  • by Anonymous Coward
    He's engaging my vocal function .... and is now inside.
  • OUT OF DATE (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nawcom ( 941663 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:41PM (#23109538) Homepage
    Wow, this is so out of date it's not even funny.

    Being a patient of corrective surgery for epilepsy twice, I decided to actually RTFA.

    The article is about Japan placing electrodes directly onto the brain to pick up more accurate signals. This actually has no direct link to having computer controlled body parts; as the FTA says they have been using electrodes placed directly on the brain to pick up activity when one moves his or her arm.

    Why is this old news? during my last round of epilepsy correction surgery, (in 2001) I went through surgery so they could place an electrode plate inside my skull in order to pick up right temporal and frontal lobe activity with the greatest accuracy. I can tell you it gave me the worst headache ever for the week or so they monitored me for seizure activity, but they immediately removed it once they decided the correct tissue to remove. Thankfully since then, it showed that the second time, not third, was the charm, for i'm off of seizure drugs without having seizure activity. And intelligence-wise, well, I still can write in assembly, and I read slashdot 3times a day. (that doesn't exactly show i'm intelligent though, not all slashdotters use their brains :-P)

    As you can see, this article is BS. Wake me up when they are using electrodes to directly interface with and manage brain activity, none of this activity reading bullshit. Yes, i was in a bad mood previous to reading TFA. heh.

    EndOfRant

    • by phorm ( 591458 )
      Having somebody say "I'm going to stick this experimental equipment in your head, which will let us know which chunk of your brain should be the right one to cut out" sounds like about the scariest thing anyone could go through.

      While I guess in some cases you might not have much choice (epilepsy is rather life-destroying as-is, depending on the degree), I have to congratulate you - and anyone willing to undergo such trials - on your courage!
    • Wow, 3 brain operations for epilepsy? I'm surprised that you are writing this and not merely someone's research paper.
      • Re:OUT OF DATE (Score:5, Interesting)

        by nawcom ( 941663 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:23PM (#23111072) Homepage
        Well, it was only 2, I apologize if the strange reference to "third time is a charm" was a little confusing.

        The first time was when I was 11, and the surgeon ended up not removing enough (this was at Children's Hospital of Detroit), because I started having seizures 5 years later. So at 17, I went to the Cleveland Clinic and I had the rest of the area taken out, along with a miniscule amount of the right frontal lobe taken out. The only permanent effect I still have is that I have no "right" peripheral vision in both of my eyes. Which isn't really that severe. Any other problems I had, like fear recognition (linked to the amygdala, which was partially removed), hunger, and such were short term, and were expected.

        If you are curious about how this stuff works, its an interesting read. http://professionals.epilepsy.com/page/surgery_cortical.html [epilepsy.com]

        The second surgery was also a reason why I decided to give up on religion, but that is a whole other story by itself. Let's just say that as an 11 year old child, I put my faith in a God to stop fear and pain. As a 17 year old teenager, I gave up on that God, and put the faith in myself, and it worked. Yeah, it might sound a little simplistic, and maybe surgeons knew more than before, but that kind of logic is the same kind that religions use to function, and that exact logic was what showed me that gods don't exist.

  • Scientist in New York already developed a bigger better version [hollywoodjesus.com]
  • The aim of the research is to develop real-time mind-controlled robotic limbs for the disabled

    Kind of like how the aim of P2P is to distribute Linux and other large FREE software, but we all know what the real purpose is - Mind Controlled Sex Devices!
  • GoogleEarth we'll be able to find JSA making cube shaped spacecraft?
  • No one thought of Ghost in the Shell. This a step in that direction. First get the machine into the brain. Then after refinements the brain/machine is taken out of the living body and put into a replacement robotic body.
    • Re:surprised (Score:4, Insightful)

      by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:44PM (#23111294) Homepage Journal
      Who said we didn't think about it? It's just a bit of a cliche now, even if it is awesome :P This is nowhere near Ghost in the Shell level diving and prosthetic control though, we're still in baby steps. It shouldn't really be that difficult to do because our sensory and motor sections of the brain are basically at the very surface on the top left and top right of the brains as far as I remember from my psychology classes.. just needs people gutsy enough to undergo more procedures like this and some appropriately knowledgeable bio-scientists and robotics geeks to develop something that is going to provide a high enough level of accuracy in mapping everything out. And hopefully being reliable enough not to make you lose all control of your body, crap yourself, and feel like you're getting repeatedly stabbed in the eyes by trees.
  • ... and you thought the Sony rootkit was evil when it was on music CDs.
  • the researchers have developed a method for analyzing the brain waves to determine the subject's intended activity to an accuracy of greater than 80%.

    So someone with a prosthetic as a result of this research might kick the person in front of them 20% of the time they move their leg?
  • Wonder what one could do with one of such implants, and a wifi/bluetooth connection to the, well, whatever you would want to move (be lost limbs or maybe something else).

    Is a bit more invasive than i.e. piercing, but could be the next big thing.
  • So, how long before I can plug a jack into head and control a giant mecha?
  • "...analyzing the brain waves to determine the subject's intended activity to an accuracy of greater than 80%."

    Is 80% really good enough? I'm reminded of an old joke about an artificial arm that had to be given verbal instructions through a microphone in the shoulder. A sad conclusion occurs over a misunderstanding of the words, "Bionic arm, whack it off."

  • So what's the real reason for all this research ?

    DUH! They want real mechas. Voltron FTW!

    Seriously, who needs nukes when you can control giant death bots with your brainwaves ? It's like every bad westernized anime plot, and frankly I think it's a bit too much. That, or I don't trust the Japanese... smart is fine, and depraved can be fun, but both smart and depraved is a dangerous combination.
  • just think on the potential market of prostetic furry tails controlled directly by the brain on japan :3
  • I'm looking forward to the day when I'm defending my family against the marauding hordes of cyborg killers of my anime dreams.
  • We are the Borg. You will service us.
  • Everyone knows that the best neurosurgeons operate in Chiba...

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