How are abstract signals, like intent, represented in neural populations? By creating a direct link between neural activity and behavior, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) can help answer this question. Early instantiations of these devices sought mainly to mimic arm movements: by building models of arm tuning for the neurons, desired arm movements could be read out and used to control various prosthetic devices. However, as the functionality of these devices increases, a more general approach that relies less on endogenous control signals may be required. Here we review some of the current, model-based approaches for finding volitional control signals for spiking-based BCIs, and present some new approaches for finding control signals without resorting to parametric models of neural activity.
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