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#3 AI Smash Hits 2020: AI Can Help Paralyzed People Move Again

The human brain can interface directly with electronics

Our Walter Bradley Center director, Robert J. Marks, is back with the second instalment of the 2020 Smash Hits in AI. Readers may recall that we offered a fun series during the holidays about the oopses and ums and ers in the discipline (typically hyped by uncritical sources). This time, Dr. Marks talks with Eric Holloway about ways AI can help people with disabilities.

A major, often unrealized, fact is that the human brain can work directly with electronic devices, provided that they are positioned or implanted so as to interface with neurons. Many possibilities are being explored. And the “exoskeleton” is our #3. Our story begins at 10:12 min:

Robert J. Marks: We’re up to number three, where a paralyzed man moves in a mind-reading exoskeleton. This is exciting. AI is helping the handicapped. Eric, tell us what’s happening.

Eric Holloway: Basically they stick a number of probes into this man’s brain. And so they can read the brainwaves and then they have a machine learning system that can learn what his brainwaves correlate to in terms of body movements. And then they take the machine learning model and they use that to control an exoskeleton. So this is a man who’s completely paralyzed. Who’d have no way of moving otherwise, but they can hook his brain up to this machine learning system, which moves the exoskeleton. And now he can actually walk around and move his arms.

Robert J. Marks: Does the exoskeleton learn?

Eric Holloway: I don’t believe the exoskeleton itself learns. I mean, it’s not in production yet. They will have to do a lot more. So I think it’s pretty limited. They have to do a lot of training time with him offline. I think he had to play a video game a whole lot. And then once the AI gets some kind of idea what his brainwaves mean, then he can have some kind of rudimentary control over the exoskeleton.

Robert J. Marks: The brain and neuroplasticity is really amazing. And if you have a lot of your brain, which is dedicated to something such as body movement, you’re not using it, it often adapts to other things. So I can see the neuroplasticity adapting so that it control the exoskeleton. So the adaptation would not be in the exoskeleton itself, but it would be in the brain.

Eric Holloway: I think maybe an even more effective route they can go with this is if the exoskeleton can feed him some kind of control signal, which he learns how to manipulate and learn to move the exoskeleton himself. Because what’s even more impressive than say artificial neuro networks is the real neural network.

The brain plasticity you’re talking about is discussed by physician Norman Doidge, who wrote a book called The Brain that Changes Itself. He offers fascinating accounts of what you can do with brain plasticity. There’s one lady who was born, I think, without any sense of balance so she could never stand up. So he gave her a buzzing device that she had hold in her hand. And once she got off balance, the device would buzz and she was able to retrain her brain and actually regain a sense of balance. So she didn’t even need that buzzing device anymore.

Robert J. Marks: Yes. In fact, we have had a podcast with the neuroscientist Yuri Danilov who was one of the founding scientists of that discipline. And also Jonathan Sackier. They mentioned that the tongue itself has more neurons per inch than any other part of the body. And so therefore, if you stimulate the tongue, you are stimulating a lot of nerves. And the other thing that was mentioned is that the tongue, when you develop is basically just pulled out of the brain. So the tongue has all of these nerves, which go directly to the brain. So that’s the reason that these tongue vibration things work so well.

Eric Holloway: So the tongue is actually part of the brain?

Robert J. Marks: Yeah. Well, in a way it’s kind of part of the brain that as you develop, it’s pulled directly from the brain and you have a lot of neurons, which are a lot of connections, which go directly to the brain.


Here are the AI 2020 Smash Hits to date:

4 AI Smash Hits 2020 AI helps detect dreaded White Eye disease. The first step in treatment is correct diagnosis. Baylor University profs developed an app that enables eyeball disease in small children to be detected easily.

5 AI 2020 Smash hit: Deepfakes—What they can and can’t do. Deepfakes? Our minds often actually fill in a lot of our background for us when we are not even aware of it. One way of thinking about deepfakes is that they are liked instant mashed potatoes. The water is removed and re-added later.

6 AI Smash Hit: AI defeats fighter pilot hands down. The future of warfare may involve more machine waste but less human carnage. Eric Holloway: It’s going to be a more a hybrid approach where you have the fighter pilot and then a bunch of robot wingman that he can control.

7 AI Smash Hit: Why AI can’t do your thinking for you. Robert J. Marks: you change a pixel or two in an image and the deep convolutional neural network is totally wrong. Eric Holloway: The machine’s confidence in its result is complete certainty and it’s absolutely certain about the wrong result.

8 AI 2020 Smash Hit: Big gains in practical self-driving cars. The people who have been pursuing Level Five self-driving are nowhere but Level Four is working well. Jonathan Bartlett: You can think of Level Four self-driving as an engineering project and Level Five as a philosophy project

9 AI Success: Smarter cars for non-millionaires If your car is a recent model, an affordable aftermarket kit might transform it into a much smarter car. One possible risk is that a hacker could take over your car but, no matter what we do with AI, we must deal with security issues.

10 Smash Hit: #10 AI Success!: Translation gets faster and better. Machine translation, properly used, can help us communicate better. What’s made AI tech translation work so well is not that it’s perfect, but we’re going to have a second pass.

Show Notes

  • 00:31 | Introducing Jonathan Bartlett
  • 00:40 | Introducing Dr. Eric Holloway
  • 02:47 | #5: Deepfaking for Entertainment
  • 10:12 | #3: Paralyzed Man Moves in Mind-Reading Exoskeleton
  • 14:32 | #4: Deep Learning for leukocoria, or “white eye”
  • 16:36 | #2: AI Beats Professionals in Six Player Poker
  • 20:23 | #1: AI Cracks Protein Folding

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#3 AI Smash Hits 2020: AI Can Help Paralyzed People Move Again