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The Artificial Brain

We are now in the era of neural decoding and mind control of prosthetic devices. The interdisciplinary field of neurobionics has developed with the aim of circumventing, substituting and repairing impaired nervous system function by directly integrating electronics with organic nervous tissue. This three-hour tutorial has been written for undergraduate students reading neuroscience, medicine, biomedical science, philosophy and psychology and will provide a solid introduction to principles of neuroprosthetic integration and neuroengineering.


We begin with an introduction to the pioneering 1960s work of Brindley and Lewin, in which wireless stimulation of electrodes  placed over the cerebral cortex of a blind woman induced phospenes - spots of light appearing in the visual fields. We review the 1970s work of Dobelle's research team with blind individuals, which involved stimulation of visual cortical electrodes via a camera mounted on spectacle frames. Common early examples of neurobionic prostheses and neuroimaging are discussed, for example, the cochlear implant, used to restore hearing in people with severe auditory impairment but with intact auditory nerves, and the direct brainstem cochlear nucleus multi-electrode prosthesis for those with no functioning auditory nerve. We then focus on the brain–computer interface (BCI), in which the brain is linked to computer via scalp, subdural or intracortical electrodes. We investigate electrode recording methods such as penetrating microelectrodes percutaneously connected to the outside world, electrodes placed on an intravascular stent, and the planar array that can be placed in the subdural space to record neural signals. In the second half of this lecture, we consider motor and sensory interfaces, together with fornix and hippocampal interfaces for memory restoration and enhancement. We focus on BCIs such as BrainGate2, used to bypass spinal cord damage to enable individuals with tetraplegia to move again, and how we can use the mind to control prosthetic limb movement in amputees. We conclude with a brief view of developments in deep brain stimulation, explaining how controlled and closed loop stimulation may allow adaptive moment to moment modulation of deep brain stimulation in movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease. 

For further information and a programme, please email Dr Guy Sutton at the address in the footer below.

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