Thought-based Computing? No Problem for Your Monkey Brain

It’s well known that your brain can automate certain tasks like walking or playing the guitar. But new research out of the University of California, Berkeley demonstrates that our brains might be just as apt at controlling PCs. That is, with nothing more than thoughts.


In the experiments, rhesus monkeys (an adorable specimen above, courtesy of Chi Liu) were implanted with not-so-adorable electrodes in their brains, and they were able to use their thoughts to control a cursor on a computer screen. That’s actually been shown to work before; what surprised scientists was the monkeys’ ability to repeat cursor-based tasks day after day with proficiency–and without recalibrating the machine, a major hassle. In the field of neuroprosthetics, this is considered “unprecedented,” says the IEEE online. The monkey’s brain is able to develop motor memory for a thought-action the same way it would for an actual motor function.

This ability should be applicable to humans as well and has led scientists to believe that people with varying degrees of paralysis will one day be able to perform complex computer-aided tasks effortlessly. The trick will be keeping the electrodes tied to the same set of specific neurons, something prior experiments hadn’t tried. But keeping track of individual brain cells is a challenging task; the obstacle between experimentation and implementation will be figuring out how to reliably do just that.

[Via IEEE Spectrum]CD