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Monkey's Brain Can "Plug and Play" to Control Computer With Thought

Researchers show brain can learn to operate prosthetic device effortlessly

5 min read

21 July 2009—Our brains have a remarkable ability to assimilate motor skills that allow us to perform a host of tasks almost automatically—driving a car, riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard. Now add another to the list: operating a computer using only thoughts.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have demonstrated how rhesus monkeys with electrodes implanted in their brains used their thoughts to control a computer cursor. Once the animals had mastered the task, they could repeat it proficiently day after day. The ability to repeat such feats is unprecedented in the field of neuroprosthetics. It reflects a major finding by the scientists: A monkey’s brain is able to develop a motor memory for controlling a virtual device in a manner similar to the way it creates such a memory for the animal’s body.

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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