external image E25FBA86-AC61-F2F8-1D0BFBD2C1EFD994_1.jpgexternal image SANY0016.jpgexternal image ECoG.jpg

Brain waves from thoughts of sounds used to move cursor

Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12990211

Created by: Alexandra Sherbon 3337714, Ngoc Kim Pham 3333845, Tiffany Aldred 3337759


Our media item comes from a BBC News article written by Jason Palmer (a science/tech author?). The article is “brain waves from thoughts of sounds used to move cursors”. The article features a brief explanation of a technology that is really in it’s infancy, it is mostly referred to as a brain-computer interface. This phrase refers to a technology that is being developed within neuroscience that has allowed scientists to successfully ‘decipher’ brain waves and programme computers so that they can read these brain waves and give meaning to them. This particular article references a specific application of this technology, using thoughts of sounds to control a cursor on a computer. This particular area of neuroscience is of interest because it involves a wide variety of advantageous applications within society through the study of specific functions of the brain. This particular area of neuroscientific research isn’t as well established as many of the other areas of neuroscience and therefore it offers an interesting and fascinating insight into more recent and newly established ways of research.
There are two main types of brain computer interfaces (BCI); invasive and non-invasive. Our article focuses on a relatively new type of invasive technology, “… a nascent technique called electrocorticography.”.

This research is possible because of advances in technology, not only are we able to peer in to our own brains and see how they function while they function but we are also able to use the brain waves emitted to control other forms of technology.
Brain-computer interfaces give patients the ability to convey information and control channels without relying on motor movements. Therefore, this technology will greatly impact the lives of people with disabilities that inhibit them from controlling systems with the use of their muscles or nerves. Other areas such as computer games or military equipment construction can also benefit from this exploration.

Neuroscientific Background:

Brain-computer interface (BCI)

A BCI is a communication pathway that allows signals from the brain to control an external device. It is composed of several factors: signal acquisition, pre-processing, feature extraction, classification/ detection and application interface (Friedman et al., 2010). Electric signals from the nervous system are first recorded using signal acquisition. Following this is pre-processing, responsible for artefact reduction and the use of signal processing methods and filters. Feature extraction then finds an appropriate representation of the electrophysiological signals. The signals given to us through feature extraction are now assigned to different categories of brain patterns. Finally, it is converted to a suitable signal that can be used to control, for example in our case, a computer.


Invasive and Non-invasive BCI Methods

There are two prominent methods used to document electrophysiological signals. Non-invasive methods include the electroencephalogram (EEG). EEG records electrical activity along the scalp through the attachment of multiple electrodes. An example of an invasive method that requires surgical intervention is Electrocorticography (ECoG) (Wolpaw et al., 2000). This novel signal platform that was discovered in the 1950s is suggested to have larger signal magnitude, spatial resolution and frequency bandwidth when compared to the EEG (Leuthardt et al., 2011). In addition to this, EEG is inconvenient because it is affected as the user moves. It was originally invented specifically to monitor the source of incurable epileptic seizures. ECoG is an intermediary between electrodes that actually penetrate brain tissue and those that are just placed on the scalp (Greger et al., 2009).The electrodes of the ECoG are within rubbery silicone and just sit on the brain. The advantage of this is the belief that non- penetrating electrodes could allow a longer life for neural interfaces and also make it more durable.

Speech Signals in the brain

Previous research has been made on the usage of motor control signals. (These signals tend to be prominent within the primary motor cortex.) However, the current article explores the usage of phonemes. Phonemes are the “smallest units of oral language” (Bouwmeester et al., 2011). The “oo”, “ah”, “ee” and “eh” phonemes are specifically used and higher-frequency signals moved the cursor on the computer. The so called “gold standard” brain signal, which is found close to the user’s brain, is said to be a requirement for this to even be possible. The area of the brain that accounts for speech signals covers larger areas of the brain focused mostly around the perisylvian cortex. It covers a broader area of the brain due to the different processing levels of speech: Auditory, phonological, semantic, motor preparation and execution (Leuthardt et al., 2011). This influences the flexibility and area of Electrocorticography implants making the area smaller and the part of the brain where the implant is to be inserted more flexible. Of course, suitable areas of implantation can be found through imaging techniques such as Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG).

Problems Associated With Application

There are problems with both invasive and non-invasive techniques; with invasive techniques there must be surgery to implant these devices there is a risk of scar tissue formation (insert citation) over where the electrodes are placed. While non-invasive techniques are not as effective in signal acquisition because of background interference.


Target Audience

“Brain Waves from Thoughts of Sounds Use to Move Cursor” was published on the 7th of April 2011, in the “Science and Technology” section of the BBC News’ online website. BBC News’ is the largest news organization in the United Kingdom; their work is widespread and easily accessible - an indication that their target audience would be the global population, but name the British. Specifically, as the section’s name suggests, it would be more so targeted at those with a general interest in the area of Science.
It is worth noting that the author, Jason Palmer, only used two articles for reference, therefore the article would lack in abundance of information and perspective, further suggesting the audience to be those who only want a general idea of “Brain-Computer Interfaces”, rather than Science academics who would seek more in-depth information.

Pitch and Bias

Jason Palmer, a Science and Technology reporter employed by BBC News wrote the chosen article. He has written more than 160 articles since he started work at BBC News in August 2008, advocating a sufficient level of trust in him to deliver news to the large-scale audience.
In this article, Palmer writes in a fashion that would be intelligible to most of the population, with short, clear paragraphs, and minimal Science jargon. He approaches the article in an unbiased manner, discounting any personal opinion and instead only acting as a “simplifying” medium between readers and two articles.

Quality of Information

The credibility of the author’s information is questionable due to his non-academic stature – Palmer is not a professional in the field of Science, rather just a journalist interested in Science, rendering him comparable to his readers. He wrote this article intending to give his audience an overview of brain-computer interfaces through a neurological experiment featuring the application of sound (phonemes) to control a cursor on the computer.

The success of his article is dependent on his ability to communicate his two references, of which he extracted information and made comparisons to:
“Using the Electrocortigraphic Speech Network to Control a Brain-Computer Interface in Humans”, a reviewed and published journal article in the Journal of Neural Engineering; and “Teenager Moves Video Icons Just By Imagination”, an article on Washington University (St. Louis)’s news website. The first article, where Palmer obtains his facts, has excellent credibility as it has been peer-reviewed (a scholarly process of screening articles). Palmer uses the latter article in a complementary manner – to make comparisons, however, this article may contain bias as it was written by an academic attending Washington University, reporting on the results of an experiment performed by the Neurology team at that university.

The Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a method of communication between various components of the brain and an external device… something Palmer fails to introduce the readers at all, instead focusing on the methods of application for BCI via electrocorticographs (ECoG) and electroencephalographs (EEG). He briefly states the procedures of these devices (e.g. “…uses sensors placed directly on the surface of the brain”); some of the problems that come with the application of these devices (e.g. “… the EEG picks up signals outside the skull, which acts to absorb and muddle the signals”); the potential of the BCI in clinical conditions; and also refers to other experiments done in the same area (e.g. video game play by thought), however, he does so in extremely little detail.

Despite the lack of in-depth explanation on the BCI, Jason Palmer’s article is still successful as he did display credible information, however broad, and communicated in a way that was easily understood by his intended audience – the general public – who may have had little or no prior knowledge on the topic!


Search Techniques

Our research started very broad, but soon became very specific to technology and neuroscience, when searching we found our article, an interesting article on brain-computer interfaces.

Our search strategy included looking for all relevant information pertaining to brain computer interfaces. We started off broad, researching it’s general functions and how it has developed from non-invasive to invasive techniques and the possible applications for this new technology. We then became more particular in our searchers, looking for more information on invasive techniques because this is what our article is based on.

Journal Articles

Birbaumer, N, 2000. Brain-computer technology: a review of the first international meeting. IEEE Transactions on Rehabilitation Engineering, 8, 164.

Connor, M, 1889. Hacking the brain. EDN Europe, 58, 9.

Friedman, D., Leeb, R., Pfurtscheller, G., Slater, M. 2010. Human-Computer interface issues in controlling virtual reality with brain-computer interface. Human-computer interaction, 25, 67-93.

Leuthardt, E, 2011. Using the electrocorticographic speech network to control a brain-computer interface in humans. Journal of Neural Engineering, 8, 1-11.

Websites and Online Resources

Reading the Brain without Poking It - University of Utah News Release: June 28th, 2009. 2011. Reading the Brain without Poking It - University of Utah News Release: June 28th, 2009. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.unews.utah.edu/old/p/062409-1.html. [Accessed 3rd September 2011].

Teenager moves video icons just by imagination | Newsroom | Washington University in St. Louis . 2011. Teenager moves video icons just by imagination | Newsroom | Washington University in St. Louis . [ONLINE] Available at: http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/7800.aspx. [Accessed 15 September 2011].

IOPscience: Journal of Neural Engineering. 2011. IOPscience: Journal of Neural Engineering. [ONLINE] Available at: http://iopscience.iop.org/1741-2552/. [Accessed 15 September 2011].

BBC News - Brain waves from thoughts of sounds used to move cursor. 2011. BBC News - Brain waves from thoughts of sounds used to move cursor. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12990211. [Accessed 15 September 2011].