Brain Co-Processors: Using AI to Restore and Augment Brain Function

Rajesh P. N. Rao

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) use decoding algorithms to control prosthetic devices based on brain signals for restoration of lost function. Computer-brain interfaces (CBIs), on the other hand, use encoding algorithms to transform external sensory signals into neural stimulation patterns for restoring sensation or providing sensory feedback for closed-loop prosthetic control. In this article, we introduce brain co-processors, devices that combine decoding and encoding in a unified framework using artificial intelligence (AI) to supplement or augment brain function. Brain co-processors can be used for a range of applications, from inducing Hebbian plasticity for rehabilitation after brain injury to reanimating paralyzed limbs and enhancing memory. A key challenge is simultaneous multi-channel neural decoding and encoding for optimization of external behavioral or task-related goals. We describe a new framework for developing brain co-processors based on artificial neural networks, deep learning and reinforcement learning. These "neural co-processors" allow joint optimization of cost functions with the nervous system to achieve desired behaviors. By coupling artificial neural networks with their biological counterparts, neural co-processors offer a new way of restoring and augmenting the brain, as well as a new scientific tool for brain research. We conclude by discussing the potential applications and ethical implications of brain co-processors.

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