Monday, June 30, 2008
Adaptive BCI interface
There's a story making the rounds about University of Florida researcher creating an adaptive BCI that is getting misinterpreted on every site I've seen it on, including a few science-ish sites/blogs. There are just some real schlock sites out there.
Here's the real scoop. Adaptive BCIs are not new, but the implementation of this one is interesting for a number of reasons, the most notable of which is that it uses agents to evaluate the reward and output, updating each as performance improves. This requires some knowledge of the reward condition, which is a whole ball of wax we won't go into detail about because it means that reward conditions are defined and recognized prior to any attempt to learn. Though reinforcement learning does not require prior knowledge of the reward (you do something, and if you get a reward, that was what you want to do), the practical application of the system require a significant amount of knowledge about the environment.
This would be very useful for tasks such as computer control, where the environment has a limited number of components and those components can be explicitly defined and communicated. I think it is obvious by now that the first generation of truly useful BCIs will require a number of techniques working synergistically to operate in an open environment, and this 'dueling banjos' agent could very likely be one of them.
What this is NOT doing, and anyone that even glanced at the abstract should be able to tell, is alter the implant itself. It does not adjust the electrodes physically, filter the signal differently, stimulate the same or other electrodes. They are talking about a relatively standard AI learning algorithm in an interesting configuration put into action.
Don't get me wrong, it is a very interesting experiment and worth thinking about, but come on folks. At least read the abstract.
I would link to the source sites, but they were all rubbish reporting.
Update: Okay, Medgadget did a good job, though they just posted two sentences and linked to the press release.