tv The Communicators CSPAN August 29, 2016 8:00am-8:31am EDT
electric: the dramatic high-tech race to merge minds and machines" the author is "boston globe" reporter malcolm gay. what is the dci? >> guest: well, let's see your dci is a brain computer interface. what that generally means, there are many ways of accessing the brain but what that means is they take electrodes, plays into the brain or a top of the brain which in all those or records neuro signals. action potential, a small electric signals that self produced when they're communicating with one another. that information is then ferried to the computer in an algorithm that takes that information and transformed into an action command. perhaps it is moving a cursor from the left to the right or perhaps moving a robotic arm. basically it's using computer and algorithm's, electrodes, to
read intentions from the brain. >> host: how long have they been studied? where did they come from? who discovered them? >> guest: that's controversial, but basically people have been using electrodes in the brain for a very long time to determine various types of movement and try to understand how animals and the brain initiative movement. it was about 15 years ago in 1991 researchers realized they could take those recordings and could figure out, based on the rhythms or the firing patterns the cells were creating a to enact certain movement, that they could re-create that movement. that early work was done in labs mainly in mice models and they quickly moved on to monkeys and eventually into humans.
>> host: what is the practical a facts of the bci? >> guest: the medical benefit? well, there's several honestly. on the one hand this is a technology that can be extraordinarily helpful to quadriplegics, people that are locked in, suffer from als disease. these are people, if you think about it, the way that the body, the way the mind interacts with the world is really only through muscular action. if i want to communicate anything to you, i have to move muscle to do that, whether it's moving my mouth to speak or a pen to write. when you lose that ability, particularly for people that are locked in, you lose the ability to queue medicaid with the world in a profound way. but this technology could perhaps do is give a level of
freedom and autonomy to people who are quadriplegic or locked in, either through software that would be some sort of word processing software that would allow them to speak or speak with a people that are around them, or even use robotic limbs to feed themselves, to do kind of the basic daily tasks of living. that would be a huge step forward for lots of people that are quadriplegic. there are other areas as well. this is something that's really exciting, research being done right now using this to rehabilitate victims of stroke. determining, using brain machine interface to train the brain to reroute its neural pathways to help people that lost lower function after stroke. there are a lot of different medical applications. there are other applications as well. >> host: malcolm gay, this sounds like medical research.
is this being done i medical researchers transferred absolutely, absolutely. it's been done by neuroscientists. one of the people, just traditional neuroscientists. a lot of people that i described in the brain electric however some of them are neurosurgeons that are working with a patient group. most of it is being funded, much of it is being funded by the military, but the people who are working with the research subjects themselves are oftentimes quadriplegics, and so they're looking at this as a chance to eventually help people in a medical setting. >> host: how is it that the defense advanced research project agency, darpa, how did they get involved in this project? >> guest: darpa has been interested in bci for a very
long time, in various iterations. sometimes the interest is in building smarter more robust, our brain machine interfaces to create a smarter more robust military force. but this program is based on the revolutionizing us that its program, it was spearheaded by a man named jeffrey lane. this is really about trying to make whole the soldiers who were coming back from iraq and afghanistan for much of this century who, because of advances in body armor, were not being, were suffering blows that previously would have been fatal but are now just coming back with amputations. so these are young men and women who are in their 20s, sometimes their 30s, who have their entire life before them. and he studied the brain for prior to joining darpa really
had a missionary zeal to say that this is a program that will make these people whole because we owe it to them for the service they did for the country. it's trying, a lot of the funny this coming from the military or the department of defense at this point is really geared towards upper limb prosthetics, so robotic arms that amputees reduce. >> host: tell us about geoffrey ling. >> guest: he's a bit of a novel, not a novelty but is a bit of a rarity at darpa entity comes from the military, study neurology, and when he joined darpa actually did two tours of duty while actually heading up the revolutionizing us that its program. it was during those tours of duty that he recounts that he start seeing people come back with these annotations.
like many of the people that a profile in the book he had this kind of aha moment where there was a soldier had come back after suffering a terrible blow will get broken his back like a spinal cord was, in fact, and this kid was just mortified because he's going to be sent home. ling listening listen, you've got this great, not great, but a million dollars wounded. you will go back to you and she will heal up and you'll be fine. you will be doing everything used to be able to do. the soldier just had this kind of really emotional response where he said, when i go back home i'm actually going to be, i manage a fast food restaurant, but here i am actually helping people in this process towards democracy. that to ling was very, very compelling and he came back convinced that as the head of this program, he and the u.s.
owed it to these people to make them whole. >> host: decide to darpa who else is working on these bci, his brain computer interface? >> guest: most of the people that i profiled in the book have worked with darpa. many people work with darpa or the department of defense or the national science foundation. there's several different funding sources. darpa or department of defense is providing a lot of money at this point. bears a lot of interest in this in the private sector as well. at this point there are off the shelf eeg headsets that you can purchase to modulate your brain waves to better relax or hopefully to better concentrate, things like that. so there is some private investment going on as well.
some of the research is being funded by university, some of it is being funded by other branches of government. it really does kind of have a broad funding sources. but at this point, particularly with the people i profiled in the book, a lot of the funding has come from darpa. >> host: what's the macro number? >> guest: i would say it's in excess of $75 million. and then, of course, obama put out the $100 million for the brain initiative in 2013. >> host: is there a market for this type of technology? >> guest: therein lies the rub really. one of the real difficulties that people come up with, and i recount one of the more dramatic episodes in the book, you know, the research for this is really
exciting and the demonstrations are really exciting. when you see somebody move a robotic limbs or manipulate a computer or interact with the digital world mentally, it's a really exciting demonstration. market economics that these people run into again and again, however, as wonderful an idea as it is to provide upper limb prostheses to quadriplegics and amputees, these are really small demographics. there are not that many people in that market. quadriplegics usually have a fairly short life expectancy. most people that are in bikinis are amputees due to some sort of vascular disease so have lost all or a portion of the lower limb. most upper limbs are due to some sort of trauma. the probably run into again and again is would have this demonstration, we can have his
work in the lab but they get to the next step and dragging it over the hurdle into the commercial market or creating a product out of this eventually difficult. it becomes a difficult proposition to get investors interested because they see how much research and development will have to go into this sort of the project, and then they realized the return on their investment is likely going to be fairly small. that's one of the traditional problems that has kept people from becoming a broader product. one of the areas that i think a lot of the researchers are looking at when they think about privatizing the research and creating some sort of the company out of this is the stroke market, because stroke is a very large pool of people. and so all of a sudden it becomes, you can create their idea anyhow, is that you can
create products that will actually come will actually give investors a good return. so there's a lot of interest in using bci for readability purposes, for stroke victims. >> host: what kind of progress has been made in the last 15 years? >> guest: let's see. it started out with rats moving a lever up and down. so that's basically one degree of freedom, moving up and down. the latest and greatest, there are, i mean, and schwartz at the university of pittsburgh which i recount in the book was able to endow one of his research subjects with 10 degrees of freedom in an upper limb. so that meant the research a subject, was able to feed herself chocolate. at one point she beat me in a
game of rock paper scissors. so very delicate motor skills being able to create a this, creative thinkers, all in real-time. of the people are working with creating digital vision. so in plans that would go into the retina. some people working with direct neural interfaces in the visual cortex. but in plans that would go in the retina that would allow previously blind people doing something to approximate vision. there are people that are working with memory, trying to create or to craft a bci that would allow alzheimer's patients or people that suffer to mention to form new memories. so on the one hand we are a long way from creating a world where these sort of advanced bci's are available to the public. on the other hand, we have come
light years. >> host: what's the role that jennifer aniston has played in the development of this technology transfer and jennifer aniston is kind of an unlikely star in euro signs are generally. there is, there was a research in the '90s that found one of the techniques, one of the neurosurgical technics that people do, it was recover in a beautiful article in the "new york times" magazine recently but one technique that many surgeons employ is something called -- with the patient is awake during neurosurgery. a neurosurgeon at ucla found when he showed his neurosurgery patients images of jennifer aniston, there would be one
neuron that would fire any which is either incredibly rapidly, just kind of in this moment of complete recognition of jennifer aniston. and he would show a picture of halle berry for kobe bryant or some other celebrity, and the neuron would be completely silent. he would bring back jennifer aniston and there it would go. people have taken this in many, many different respects. one is is this the neuron that is responsible for our understanding? i should back up and say there were other neurons that were found that fired in similar manners to other people. so for halle berry specifically or kobe bryant specifically. so people begin to wonder, is it this one neuron responsible for what it really or one's ability to recognize jennifer aniston?
of course that has lots of problems because the minute you say that's the one neuron that is responsible for, if that neuron presently he wouldn't be able to recognize jennifer aniston. a lot more researchers are many other researchers have come to believe that it's more of a network, a series of beacons. so as you're coming to understand an individual or your information is coming in to the visual stream, there are neurons that are responding to specific forms in the face, specific arcs, respond to specific shades of brown for specific shades of blue. and as each one of these kinds of creates this beacon of understanding incomprehension, eventually along that neural change to each one of those beacons lights up, and it's a jennifer aniston, that final beacon will light up.
it's more an indicator that all of these previous steps have been reached. it's more cognitive neuroscience, but when you get into deeper, more sophisticated bci's, particularly in terms of notion, researchers are starting to think about how the brain is thinking about the world symbolically and how the brain is seeing objects and how it's going to interact with those objects specifically. and that has much more to do with this kind of networked notion of the brain understanding individual objects and its relation or its physical relation, the body's relation to those objects. >> host: what some of the technology that is being used to develop this bci concept? >> guest: on the one hand some
of it is off the shelf. there are computers. most of the labs are making their own computers, but it starts with platinum electrodes and cables. the electrodes are implanted in the brain. usually, or may electrodes, actually electrodes grits. there will be those that pierced the brain by about two millimeters. goes electrodes are saddled up against our next two there is neurons. those are then ferried along cables. when signals come off the brain they are analog. so they have to be digitized to get them into the computers and amplified. wants their into computers, and most of these computers are built in the labs so that specific, maybe not necessarily consumer models. there are the spoke algorithms
of the various labs will make, and those labs, and then those algorithms then will send whatever the product of the algorithm is to its output device. and oftentimes that's a simple video game. there will be a target in the center and you were meant to move a cursor to a second target higher up. those are fairly simple video games at oftentimes crafted in the lab. when you get into the robotic arms that have been, that i recount in the book, those have been created by this effort from darpa. many of those technologies simply did not exist before this effort, and these are tiny motors, various hydraulic
systems to actually move the arm, abilities to cool the arm, things like that. the arm itself, the biggest arm that darpa created to arms, one was built out of existing technologies, the of is the one i'm describing, was built out of the denofa technologies, will also allow sensory information to be brought back to the brain. it is equipped with sensory feelings as well. on the one hand there's a really garden-variety technology. on the other there is the bleeding on the cutting edge. >> host: what is the utah already? >> guest: it is the array that i described earlier. it's about the size of the tic tac or a small pill and it looks like a bed of nails.
it's a flat surface with 100 micro electrodes that stick out of it like a bed of nails. that has been placed in the brain itself. what that gives researchers previously researchers have been using one, two, three, individual electrodes they would implant individually. this gave them a consistent pattern and only then was something that can actually move with the brain. the brain for something, it's a fairly, it's almost like the consistency of a font and it will move inside the braincase. one of the beauties of the utah array is that it will actually move with the brain commit the electorate itself is static, if the brain starts to shift slightly, then whichever neuron you're listening to previously is just simply gone. the utah array gives you a certain amount of consistency of
the interface. there are lots of other arrays that are being developed in labs right now. some researchers are working on cubes of electrodes. so would be electrodes on six separate planes that would scale up the butt of electrodes. >> host: in "the brain electric" you tell jan sherman's star. if you would, you mentioned earlier but tell us about jan sherman and also does she use, for lack of a better term, the thought process to make movements? >> guest: right. so jan is quite extraordinary. in the late '90s she was living in california and she ran a company where she would host this murder mystery parties. and during one of the parties she was crouching down and realized she simply could not stand up, her legs were not
opening her. this was the beginning of a rapid decline of her motor functions. within three years i believe she was in a wheelchair. cheer to children at the time and was living in california and and would go to various doctors to try to diagnose what the problem was. each of the doctor said this looks like multiple sclerosis, but it's not multiple sclerosis. it's something else. turned out she had spinal several degeneration which is a real rare disease. is characterized by massive motor neuron death. she's now lost all movement below the neck. this for years placed jan in kind of a tremendous depression. at one point she was suicidal.
she was a person who was raised catholic and always have is very, very strong sense of charity and duty. her cause have and hunger, so she lost her ability to help people in many respects when she lost her ability to move. because if she were to go to college or someone should had someone volunteer with her and so she had tremendous amounts of guilt in terms of the burden she wasn't of the people in her inability to help other people. to the point where she did one point become suicidal. and jan, when she learned about this research, was very quick to undergo craniotomy and sign up in the implanted and start working with the andrew schwartzman at the university of pittsburgh. what this has done for her, she's quite clear that she's never going to really benefit from this herself.
the technology is simply, it's two young, but she nevertheless has received extraordinary spiritual kind of comfort from this. it's giving new meaning to our life and that she knows now she's actually helping people in the future, you know, that may suffer similar diseases to her so. actually kind of given her a new sense of purpose and meaning in her life. so i think that's what other interesting things about jane. and a lot of people that participate in this research, it's not so much facing that they will benefit from necessarily, but it's something that they do in this kind of very brave and courageous effort to help other people. >> host: but at the same time she is manipulative and
mechanical arm several times via her thought processes, correct, and the technology embedded? >> guest: that's right. so the upside of this issue does key to play with some pretty cool technology. she worked with the arm for a long time. she also flew a simulated a 30 -- f. 30. there are two separate ways that people will kind of craft the bci and get, to kind of unlock motion. one is to think about unrelated thoughts. for instance, if i wanted a cursor to move from the left to the right i might think about flexing my elbow. and if i want to move up into i might think about making a fist. so completely unrelated thoughts but things that will create real recognizable neural patterns. that's a good which create an interface very quickly.
the problem with that is you can only have spontaneous movement and explore the environment the way we would with our biological. the other way. this is what schwartz worked with jan sherman to do, is do not think about it in those terms but to think about it naturalistically. instead of thinking of going to make a fist to move the arm up, you so they think about moving the arm of the columbia exploded findings of this research is when people are quadriplegic, the brain is extraordinary plastic and the motor cortex which is the seat and highly influential and motor action, oftentimes those neurons will be recruited for other activities. nevertheless, when that individual, even though they are motor impaired, thinks about moving the arm or clenching your
fist, the motor cortex will spring into action as though they were intact bodily. >> host: where's the future of this technology going? >> guest: good question. i think that the future of this technology is going to start in the medical field, really envy rehabilitative realm of stroke. i think that from there, that's a good possibility to create, a good opportunity to create proof of principle and show that it has a medical benefit. once that medical benefit has been shown, i think that of the bci is will have a much easier time of getting investors on board. i think the photo of stroke and a foothold of some of these early bci is will allow more sophisticated bci's to come forward in the future of. >> host: malcolm gay is reported with "the boston globe."
he writes about art and food for "the boston globe" but here is his book, "the brain electric: the dramatic high-tech race to merge minds and machines." >> throughout this month we are showing tv programs during the week in prime time. in case you're not to case you're not familiar with the wiki features, booktv unsuspected takes our public affairs programming and focus on the latest nonfiction book releases for author interviews and book discussion. our signature programs our in depth, allies will look at what authors work from questions from viewers of the phone company now and social media. in depth bears the first sunday of every month at noon eastern. afterwards as a one-to-one conversation between author of the newly released nonfiction book and the interviewer who is either a journalist, public policymaker or legislator emily with the topic. afterwards tears every saturday at tempe beach. will take you across the country visiting book festivals the
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