Mind Control: Introducing BrainGate

Moving objects with one’s mind is the fodder of sci-fi, magic tricks, and futuristic visions. But John Donoghue explains how, in some ways, such dreams are a reality. He’s developing revolutionary technology that “reconnects the brain to the outside world” in patients who are completely paralyzed. Using transplants that detect thoughts and translate them into actionable bits of code, the pioneering neuroscientist describes a new era in which mind and machine are interacting in surprising ways—from playing Pong to completing complex daily actions, just by thinking about it.

By: World Science Festival.
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Mind-Controlled Robots Take Directions from Tiny Brain Implants

By GE Reports staff

In 1997, Cathy Hutchinson suffered a brainstem stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. But in 2011, she was able to pick up a bottle of coffee, bring it to her mouth and drink from it again.

Hutchinson, who was 58 at the time, didn’t regain control over her hands. She did it by moving a robotic arm with her thoughts.

Hutchinson controlled the robot with a technology called brain-computer interface, which uses tiny electrodes implanted in the regions of the brain that control hand and arm movements. The 96 microscopic electrodes listened to signals produced by Hutchison’s neurons, fed them to a computer for analysis and translated them into motion, as reported in the journal Nature.

Top: In 2011, Cathy Hutchinson her first sip of coffee on her own in 15 years. She brought the coffee to her lips by controlling a robotic arm with her thoughts. Above: A tiny brain implant was “reading” Hutchinson’s thoughts. GIF credits: Brown University

The technology was developed by the cross-disciplinary BrainGate team. “We’ve moved significantly closer to returning everyday functions, like serving yourself a sip of coffee, usually performed effortlessly by the arm and hand, for people who are unable to move their own limbs,” said Brown University neuroscientist John Donoghue, who leads  BrainGate with his collaborators at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Stanford University, and Case Western Reserve University. “This work is a critical step toward realizing the long-term goal of creating a neurotechnology that will restore movement, control and independence to people with paralysis or limb loss.”

A prototype of a GE brain probe. Image credit: GE Global Research

Donoghue’s team isn’t alone exploring the barrier between the brain and machines. “We build microelectronic brain implants that are specifically designed for nerve stimulation and recording,” says electrical engineer Craig Galligan, who designs neural implants like the inside Hutchinson’s head at GE Global Research in New York. “We want to have the least invasive process in implanting a neural probe, and we also want to target a specific area. Part of the game is knowing exactly what neurons need to be targeted and only stimulate that area.”

A human neuron. GIF credit: Invention Factory

Galligan and his team are now trying to understand how the brain-computer interface will evolve over the next decade. “Early on, it became clear from speaking with top neurosurgeons that the structural dimensions of the probe could have a large impact on the success of an implant,” Galligan wrote in his blog. “Narrower probes appeared to cause less tissue damage and remained functional for longer durations of implantation.”

Since scientists at the GE lab work on any number of things - from new materials for jet engines to chemical sensors based on butterfly wings, and high-resolution medical scanners - Galligan reached out across the hallway to colleagues working on a technology called the MEMS Microswitch to improve on his brain probes. (GE CEO Jeff Immelt calls this idea cross-pollination the GE Store.)

A testing device in Jeff Ashe’s lab. Image credit: GE Global Research

The MEMs, or “micro-electro-mechanical-systems,” can be thinner than a human hair, but they also allow engineers to manage everything from battery life to medical devices and aviation systems. With the MEMs team’s help, Galligan and his colleagues were able to build and test in his lab a probe that was 2 millimeters long and 30 microns wide – less than the diameter of a human hair.

They constructed the probe from a proprietary gold alloy, which was then covered with a 4-micron parylene dielectric coating, basically a type of electrical insulation. They ablated the parylene from the tip of the probe with a UV laser to make sure that it would electrically connect only with the right brain regions. “These efforts are part of the many activities necessary before the probes are evaluated further through clinical research,” Galligan says.

Galligan says that pre-clinical trials have been encouraging. “We observed an excellent signal-to-noise ratio, which allowed for clear measurement of neural spike waveforms,” he says. He also said “the signal recording results were comparable with previously tested neural probes of larger width. These wider probes cause more tissue disruption, and thus may not remain effective for as long as our narrower prototypes.”

The team used the results to apply for an NIH grant to continue the pre-clinical work, “with our eventual longer-term goal being testing and use in humans,” Galligan says.

BrainGate’s John Donoghue. Image credit: Brown University

Galligan’s colleague Jeff Ashe has been working with Donoghue’s BrainGate team to better understand the electrical signals generated by the brain’s neurons. “We really want to know what’s happening down on the cellular level,” Ashe says. “Our sensor designs will be tiny, and they will be able to record the electrical signals coming from the individual neurons,” Ashe says. “Being able to record and separate the signals from the individual neurons, we can then interpret the information the neurons are creating and the functions their circuits should be producing.”

One day, these implants could also help treat brain disease. Says Ashe: “We are looking at tools that actually can listen to the brain cells, understand their language, and speak back to the brain.” Ashe says. “The Brain can communicate to devices, and devices will communicate to the brain.”

Überschrift: “Was im Gehirn geschieht, ist ziemlich weit von der Realität entfernt.”

Untertitel: John Donoghue ist einer der Pioniere in der Entwicklung von Gehirn-Computer-Schnittstellen

Quelle des Auszugs: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, vom 07. Januar 2015, Forschung und Technik, aus einem NZZ-Gespräch das Katrin Zöfel mit John Donoghue geführt hat.

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Creating Consciousness

Can consciousness be created? Is there a range of types of consciousness? In reaction to a thought experiment proposed by John Hockenberry, philosopher Luciano Floridi and John Donoghue wrestle with the idea of “an internet residing in our brains.”

By: World Science Festival.
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At present, our brains are mostly dependent on all the stuff below the neck to turn thought into action. But advances in neuroscience are making it easier than ever to hook machines up to minds. See neuroscientists John Donoghue and Sheila Nirenberg, computer scientist Michel Maharbiz, and psychologist Gary Marcus discuss the cutting edge of brain-machine interactions in “Cells to Silicon: Your Brain in 2050,” part of the Big Ideas series at the 2014 World Science Festival.

The Emerging Multibillion Dollar Cybernetic Brain Revolution

Where does the human end and the machine begin? In the era of neuroprosthetics, tiny electronic devices embedded in the body that stimulate the brain and other parts of the nervous system to improve their function, this question may soon get harder to answer.

Last week, for example, researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, introduced a flexible neural implant that delivers electric and chemical pokes directly to the nervous system. In early trials, it allowed paralyzed rats to walk again with fewer side effects than other treatments.

The device, called e-Dura, is made from a material that mimics the dura matter, the thick membrane that protects the brain and the spinal cord. It could become the first long-term neuroprosthetic implant that could stay inside the human body for as long as 10 years. “This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury,” says Stéphanie Lacour, the electrical engineer who led the work. The research was reported last week in the journal Science.

The neural implant mimics the dura, flexible matter protecting the brain. Image credits: GIF created from an EPFL video.

Lacour is not alone exploring the limits of neuroprosthetics. “I’m encouraged by the work of Lacour and the opportunities for material science to help enable long-term viability” of implants, says Jeff Ashe, electrical engineer at GE Global Research who is involved in GE’s brain research. “One of the keys to future success of brain-machine interfaces is the ability for such devices to be compatible with the human body for decades or more.”

Ashe is working with neuroscientist John Donoghue and his team at Brown University on decoding the signals used by the brain to control the body. “If you can understand the brain’s language, you’ll be able to understand the nature of how one particular disease has affected a certain function,” he says.

Implants could benefit patients with depression and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Image credit: GE Healthcare

The partners are developing tiny sensors that will be able to pickup electrical signals produced by individual neurons. He believes that scientists will soon know how groups of neurons work together to control brain function. “We want to take that outside the body via an external device that can mimic these signals and restore motor control,” Ashe told GE Reports.

The work is part of a broader push by GE to see the brain more clearly, which includes the company’s medical imaging as well as software and analytics businesses.

The global market for neuroprosthetics could reach $14 billion by 2020, growing at a compound annual rate of 15 percent, according to the data from Research and Markets. The fastest growing segments will include retinal implants, and devices helping patients manage symptoms of Parkinson’s, epilepsy and overactive bladder syndrome.

Research and Markets reported that a majority of patients with “debilitating” cognitive and psychological disorders were “unamenable to any form of treatment as first line (drug) and second line (invasive surgeries) treatments fail.” But neuroprosthetics offer a solution. 


Sunday night was the live semi-finals on series 4 of The Voice of Ireland. The top 4 acts regardless of teams will make up the final 4, which means that one of the coaches could potentially have nobody in the final. Let’s get to it!

TEAM UNA: John Sheehy-“Sugar” by Maroon 5. I’m not crazy about this song, but I thought it was a good song choice since John has that really high voice like Adam Levine. He sounded pretty good, but his moves were a bit awkward. I thought it was a good vocal, but maybe a little forgettable which is very bad for the first performance of the night.

TEAM BRESSIE: Denise Morgan-“Weak”, another original song. Originals work for the auditions just fine, but this late in the game it’s a huge mistake. Not to mention, this wasn’t a great song. The chorus was really repetitive, and she didn’t even sound that good, especially with that scream at the end. I didn’t like it at all, and I was hoping this wouldn’t lead to Bressie’s 3rd victory. ELIMINATED

TEAM RACHEL: Sarah McTernan-“Earned It” by The Weeknd. Seriously Rachel, lose the dancers!! I thought she sounded out way too soft, but technically proficient as usual. It did get stronger when it picked up, but the dancers totally stole this performance. She still sounded good and I believed her, so I’m quite happy to see her next week.

TEAM RACHEL: Kieran McKillop-“Give Me Love” by Ed Sheeran. I’m really getting over this Ed Sheeran craze, but I really did like this performance. The song was boring, but he did sound quite nice so I was happy about that. I was ready to write Rachel’s team off back in the Battles, but she’s left with 2 really strong contenders!!

TEAM KIAN: John Bonham-“Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns’N Roses. I don’t really like this song and I haven’t cared for John, and this was no exception. It was pure karaoke from beginning to end, and honestly not as impressive as he usually is. I feel like he is doing the same thing every week, and that’s not helping him. Clearly I’m not the only one getting bored with him either.

TEAM KIAN: Helena Bradley Bates-“You’re the Voice” by John Farnham. I like this song, but I didn’t like Helena’s performance that much. It didn’t feel like the same Helena we’ve gotten to know thus far, and Kian putting her all over the place is not going to help her at all. She sounded fine, but it was not a semi-final performance.

TEAM BRESSIE: Emma Humber-“What Kind of Man” by Florence & the Machine. It was really low and way too soft at the beginning, I couldn’t tell if she messed up or not because it was hard to hear her. It picked up nicely and was once again the better of Bressie’s girls. Between this week and last week, Emma is looking like a strong contender to give Bressie his 3rd victory.

TEAM UNA: Patrick Donoghue-“Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan. It was nice to hear Patrick do something more upbeat. He sounded great as usual, but I kinda thought it was his weakest performance at the same time. I still think he’s a contender, but he could allow someone else to sneak up past him. He needs to kill it twice next week if he wants to win, but I still think he can.

Advancing to the final: Kieran, Emma, Patrick & Sarah

Eliminated: John S, Helena, John B and Denise

So both of Rachel’s acts made the final, and Kian has nobody. Poor thing, 4 seasons and he still won’t win. Oh well, I do wish the eliminated 4 the best of luck in their futures, especially Helena with her baby. I’m really happy with the final 4, and it could be any of them!! Next week is the final, and we’ll crown the 4th Voice of Ireland. Will Bressie get his 3rd victory, or will one of the girls nab it this year? We’ll just have to see!!


Sunday night was the live Quarter Final on series 4 of The Voice of Ireland. Each of the top 12 got to perform live for your votes. The top vote-getter from each team plus one other chosen by their coach will be performing in next week’s semi-finals.

First up is Team Rachel.

Paddy Kennedy- “Pencil Full of Lead” by Paolo Nutini. He sounded fine, but the old-fashioned dancers kinda stole the show. Rachel, this isn’t The X Factor, leave the dancers over there!!! The dancing kinda took away from his vocal a bit I thought, and he looked fairly uncomfortable. I don’t even think it was fun, so I didn’t like it. Eliminated

Kieran McKillop- “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake. I thought this was a pretty bad song choice overall. He didn’t sound bad at all, but this song is so wordy and does almost nothing to showcase vocal ability. It was okay, but karaoke and boring. He is quite handsome though!! Advanced on public vote

Sarah McTernan- “What I Did for Love” by Emeli Sande. It started out pretty low and it was hard to hear her. It was a fine vocal though, probably the best on Team Rachel. That doesn’t really say a whole lot though, but I don’t think Rachel will be this season’s winning coach anyway. Saved by Rachel

Next we have Team Bressie.

Kayleigh Cullinan- “Freewheel” by Duke Special. I don’t know this song, so I wouldn’t ever love this performance. She sounded good as usual, even though it was a bit shaky. I felt like she was resisting a bit, so I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. I kinda thought it was her weakest performance yet, but I still really like Kayleigh. Eliminated

Emma Humber- “Play Dead” by Bjork. I thought this was a really creepy song, but I thought Emma delivered it very well. It was a bit overdramatic at much, but I liked it. She was actually my favorite of Team Bressie this week. Advanced on public vote

Denise Morgan- “These Words” by Natasha Bedingfield. I haven’t heard this song in awhile, but I forgot how awful this song is. The arrangement made it feel like a lounge song, which actually made it worse for me. She sounded fine, but I couldn’t get over how dumb this song is. Saved by Bressie

Next is Team Una.

Patrick Donoghue- “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” by Paloma Faith. I don’t know this song either, but I thought this started out a bit rough. It was a bit too low for him, but Patrick is undeniably a fantastic singer and this was no exception. Homeboy needs some hand lotion, but he still sounded great. Advanced on public vote

John Sheehy- “Hold Back the River” by James Bay. I thought the song was a bit repetitive, but he sounded pretty good. I thought his moves were a bit uncomfortable and he got drowned out by the music towards the end, but it was a fine performance. Saved by Una

Niall O’Halloran- “Like I Can” by Sam Smith. I was really excited for Niall since I loved him in the Knockouts, but Sam Smith is so huge in the UK right now so I thought this was a mistake. He sounded great at the beginning, but the music completely drowned him out at the end. These sound people need to get their stuff together. I didn’t love this performance like I wanted to, so I was quite disappointed. Eliminated

And last but certainly not least, we have Team Kian.

Fionn Gardner- “Up” by Olly Murs. It was okay, there were quite a few bum notes though. His face also told me that he had no idea what he was singing about, and the backup singers were louder than him once again. It wasn’t a bad vocal, but it felt really corny to me so I wasn’t crazy about it. Eliminated

Helena Bradley Bates- “River Deep-Mountain High” by Tina Turner. Once again, there were a ton of dancers in sports bras dancing around her. She sang really well, but the dancers just circled around her and kinda stole from Helena. I do like Helena, and she sounded great, but leave the dancers on the other show!! Saved by Kian

John Bonham- “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King. It was nice to see John do a slower song, even if he did turn it into the same loud rock performance we’ve been seeing from him. It was okay, but it was a bit too much for me. His voice makes him sound like an Adam Lambert impersonator, but people do love him. Advanced on public vote

So that’s it for the quarterfinal. Paddy Kennedy, Kayleigh Cullinan, Niall O’Halloran and Fionn Gardner were eliminated this week, and the rest will be back next week for the semi-final. I am sad to see Kayleigh and Niall go, but not overly surprised. This is what I don’t like about these short seasons. We really don’t get to know these people that well over time. 4 performances is not enough for me to get attached to somebody, and so I wish we would send like 1 or 2 people home a week, like they do in America. Oh well, I’ll be back next week for the semi-finals. Thanks so much for reading!!