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Standardizing the Brain-Machine Interface

Every neural-prosthetics lab has its own brain-decoding algorithm, but could one size fit all?

3 min read

Earlier this year in a lab at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., a clever, raisin-gobbling ­monkey named Idoya made a robot move in Japan—just by thinking. And she wasn’t alone. She joined ranks with, among others, a ­paraplegic man who recently used his brain to move a cursor around a computer screen.

Researchers have endowed subjects with seemingly telekinetic powers by extracting the patterns of brain ­activity that occur when we move parts of our bodies. However those patterns are tapped electronically, algorithms are needed to interpret them and discern their salient ­features so that the appropriate ­signals can be sent to external devices. Groups working on brain-machine interfaces have designed brain decoders differently, depending on the type of neural data they collect and the purposes of their research. As a result, most algorithms have to be written from the ground up. But some in the field say it’s time to develop a generic algorithm that will incorporate the best work of the last decade and serve as a foundation for all labs ­working on neural prosthetics.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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