Rockwood Memorial Lecture


INC sponsors the H. Paul Rockwood Memorial Lectureship held annually. The Rockwood Memorial Lectureship Fund was gifted to the Institute by Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Rockwood in memory of their late son's interest, studies, and work in the neural computation field. The Rockwood Memorial Lectures are endowed by Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Rockwood in memory of their late son, Paul, who received a B.S. in Computer Science from UCSD in 1980 and then obtained a second degree B.A. in Psychology in 1981. In 1983 he started a company, Integral Solutions, to develop a universal language translation, but died tragically in a mountaineering accident before he could fulfill his promise.

Dr. Jonathan Wolpaw
Jonathan R. Wolpaw, M.D.

National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies,
Stratton VA Medical Center and State University of New York at Albany

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Brain-Computer Interfaces Create Synthetic Heksors

Abstract: The CNS acquires and maintains useful behaviors (skills) produced by muscles. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) enable the CNS to acquire nonmuscular skills produced by brain signals. BCI development can benefit from recent advances in understanding natural (muscle-based) skills. Each is produced and maintained by a unique CNS entity, which we call a heksor. A heksor is a widely distributed network of neurons and synapses that changes itself as needed to maintain the key features of a skill, the features that make the skill satisfactory. Heksors share the CNS and overlap each other. Through their concurrent changes, heksors negotiate the properties of the neurons and synapses they all use, and keep the CNS in a state of negotiated equilibrium that enables each heksor to maintain the key features of its skill. The heksor and negotiated equilibrium concepts are supported by animal and human studies, explain otherwise inexplicable results, underlie promising new therapeutic strategies, and offer new answers to questions such as generation and function of spontaneous neuronal activity, etiology of muscle synergies, and control of homeostatic plasticity. These new concepts can also guide BCI development. A BCI creates what is best described as a synthetic heksor. A synthetic heksor is a network of neurons and synapses combined with adaptive software; network and software adapt to each other so as to maintain the key features of a nonmuscular skill. Present interest focuses on three kinds of synthetic heksors. First, a BCI can create a therapeutic synthetic heksor that targets beneficial plasticity to a crucial site in a natural heksor that has been damaged by a stroke or other lesion (e.g., the locomotion heksor); this triggers wider plasticity that restores the natural skill. BCIs of this kind are entering clinical use. Second, a BCI can create a synthetic heksor that replaces a communication or control skill lost to injury or disease. BCIs of this kind are not yet suitable for applications that require the speed, accuracy and – most of all – the reliability of natural skills. Their improvement hinges on integrating the synthetic heksors they create with the natural heksors that share the CNS. Third, a laboratory BCI can create synthetic heksors that illuminate principles underlying negotiations among natural heksors in the healthy CNS.

Bio: Dr. Wolpaw is a board-certified neurologist who has spent the past 45 years exploring and modulating spinal cord and brain plasticity in animals and humans. His lab originated and validated the protocol for operant conditioning of spinal stretch reflexes. They showed that appropriate reflex conditioning can improve walking in rats with spinal cord injuries. Working with Dr. Aiko Thompson, his group found that reflex conditioning can also improve walking in people with spinal cord injury. This new paradigm leads to new therapeutic strategies that are proving successful in clinical studies. Over the past 37 years, Dr. Wolpaw have been deeply involved in brain computer interface (BCI) research and its clinical applications. The Wadsworth BCI group led by Dr. Wolpaw and his colleague Dr. Dennis McFarland first demonstrated the usefulness of EEG sensorimotor rhythms for BCI-based communication and control, including multidimensional movement control. They developed and disseminated the general-purpose BCI software platform BCI2000, which has supported >2,000 peer-reviewed studies world-wide. They organized the first four international BCI conferences and contributed greatly to the first comprehensive BCI textbook (Wolpaw& Wolpaw 2012), and are now involved in editing the second edition. Dr. Wolpaw’s spinal cord plasticity and BCI research has been supported for >40 years by NIH, the VA, DARPA, and private foundations. He is now Director of the NIBIB/NIH-funded National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies (NCAN). He served as first president of the new BCI Society, which now has 300 members world-wide.

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Previous Rockwood Lectures

Hosted by: Terry Sejnowski, Ph.D., Gert Cauwenberghs, Ph.D., Scott Makeig, Ph.D., and Arnaud Delorme, Ph.D.
Organized by: Institute for Neural Computation,