Byron Yu: Brain Computer Interfaces Helping People with Disabilities

I work on brain-computer interfaces, and the
idea behind a brain-computer interface is that we can connect a brain with a computer,
where the computer is reading out the person’s brain activity, and interpreting them in terms
of movement that the person would like to make. A focus of my group’s work is developing
the appropriate statistical and machine learning methods for analyzing the activity of large
populations of neurons. We can understand how these neurons work together
in our brain to allow us to perform daily functions, such as how we move our arms and
how we see things in the world. This sort of system can be very helpful for
paralyzed and disabled patients. If they have this brain-computer interface,
they can move a computer cursor or a robotic limb just by thinking about it. And so what we’re doing is to study what
changes in the brain when a person goes from not being able to control a cursor to being
able to control a cursor very well. Our work on brain-computer interfaces and
our work to study how the brain works is likely to lead to better treatment options for patients
with injury or disease. Secondly, our work on learning is likely to
lead to better ways of teaching people new skills. The hope is that these systems will be used
with larger patient populations in the coming years. It turns out that Pittsburgh and CMU is a
really great place to perform this type of research, both because the quality of people
we have here at CMU across many different departments. One of the challenges moving forward in the
coming years is how we can leverage all of what we can observe to learn something about
how the brain works, and ultimately use that knowledge to help human patients.

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