Probabilistic co-adaptive brain-computer interfacing

J Neural Eng. 2013 Dec;10(6):066008. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/10/6/066008. Epub 2013 Oct 18.


Objective: Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are confronted with two fundamental challenges: (a) the uncertainty associated with decoding noisy brain signals, and (b) the need for co-adaptation between the brain and the interface so as to cooperatively achieve a common goal in a task. We seek to mitigate these challenges.

Approach: We introduce a new approach to brain-computer interfacing based on partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs). POMDPs provide a principled approach to handling uncertainty and achieving co-adaptation in the following manner: (1) Bayesian inference is used to compute posterior probability distributions ('beliefs') over brain and environment state, and (2) actions are selected based on entire belief distributions in order to maximize total expected reward; by employing methods from reinforcement learning, the POMDP's reward function can be updated over time to allow for co-adaptive behaviour.

Main results: We illustrate our approach using a simple non-invasive BCI which optimizes the speed-accuracy trade-off for individual subjects based on the signal-to-noise characteristics of their brain signals. We additionally demonstrate that the POMDP BCI can automatically detect changes in the user's control strategy and can co-adaptively switch control strategies on-the-fly to maximize expected reward.

Significance: Our results suggest that the framework of POMDPs offers a promising approach for designing BCIs that can handle uncertainty in neural signals and co-adapt with the user on an ongoing basis. The fact that the POMDP BCI maintains a probability distribution over the user's brain state allows a much more powerful form of decision making than traditional BCI approaches, which have typically been based on the output of classifiers or regression techniques. Furthermore, the co-adaptation of the system allows the BCI to make online improvements to its behaviour, adjusting itself automatically to the user's changing circumstances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Markov Chains*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Probability
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Young Adult