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Neuroadaptive technology enables implicit cursor control based on medial prefrontal cortex activity

Zander, Thorsten O.; Krol, Laurens R.; Birbaumer, Niels P.; Gramann, Klaus

The effectiveness of today’s human–machine interaction is limited by a communication bottleneck as operators are required to translate high-level concepts into a machine-mandated sequence of instructions. In contrast, we demonstrate effective, goal-oriented control of a computer system without any form of explicit communication from the human operator. Instead, the system generated the necessary input itself, based on real-time analysis of brain activity. Specific brain responses were evoked by violating the operators’ expectations to varying degrees. The evoked brain activity demonstrated detectable differences reflecting congruency with or deviations from the operators’ expectations. Real-time analysis of this activity was used to build a user model of those expectations, thus representing the optimal (expected) state as perceived by the operator. Based on this model, which was continuously updated, the computer automatically adapted itself to the expectations of its operator. Further analyses showed this evoked activity to originate from the medial prefrontal cortex and to exhibit a linear correspondence to the degree of expectation violation. These findings extend our understanding of human predictive coding and provide evidence that the information used to generate the user model is task-specific and reflects goal congruency. This paper demonstrates a form of interaction without any explicit input by the operator, enabling computer systems to become neuroadaptive, that is, to automatically adapt to specific aspects of their operator’s mindset. Neuroadaptive technology significantly widens the communication bottleneck and has the potential to fundamentally change the way we interact with technology.
Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, /10.1073/pnas.1605155114, National Academy of Sciences