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Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

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Front. Psychol., 09 November 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00455

Intention concepts and brain-machine interfacing

  • 1Epilepsy Center, University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 2Institute for Biology III, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 3Bernstein Center Freiburg, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 4Hermann Paul School of Linguistics, Freiburg, Germany
  • 5Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA, USA
  • 6Department of Philosophy and Ethics, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands

Intentions, including their temporal properties and semantic content, are receiving increased attention, and neuroscientific studies in humans vary with respect to the topography of intention-related neural responses. This may reflect the fact that the kind of intentions investigated in one study may not be exactly the same kind investigated in the other. Fine-grained intention taxonomies developed in the philosophy of mind may be useful to identify the neural correlates of well-defined types of intentions, as well as to disentangle them from other related mental states, such as mere urges to perform an action. Intention-related neural signals may be exploited by brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that are currently being developed to restore speech and motor control in paralyzed patients. Such BMI devices record the brain activity of the agent, interpret (“decode”) the agent’s intended action, and send the corresponding execution command to an artificial effector system, e.g., a computer cursor or a robotic arm. In the present paper, we evaluate the potential of intention concepts from philosophy of mind to improve the performance and safety of BMIs based on higher-order, intention-related control signals. To this end, we address the distinction between future-, present-directed, and motor intentions, as well as the organization of intentions in time, specifically to what extent it is sequential or hierarchical. This has consequences as to whether these different types of intentions can be expected to occur simultaneously or not. We further illustrate how it may be useful or even necessary to distinguish types of intentions exposited in philosophy, including yes- vs. no-intentions and oblique vs. direct intentions, to accurately decode the agent’s intentions from neural signals in practical BMI applications.

Keywords: BMI, BCI, action intention, intentional, philosophy of mind

Citation: Thinnes-Elker F, Iljina O, Apostolides JK, Kraemer F, Schulze-Bonhage A, Aertsen A and Ball T (2012) Intention concepts and brain-machine interfacing. Front. Psychology 3:455. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00455

Received: 09 August 2012; Accepted: 09 October 2012;
Published online: 09 November 2012.

Edited by:

Rico Fischer, Technische Universität Dresden, Germany

Reviewed by:

Don Tucker, Electrical Geodesics, Inc. and the University of Oregon, USA
Malte Schilling, International Computer Science Institute Berkeley, USA

Copyright: © 2012 Thinnes-Elker, Iljina, Apostolides, Kraemer, Schulze-Bonhage, Aertsen and Ball. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Tonio Ball, Epilepsy Center, University Medical Center Freiburg, Engelbergerstr. 21, 79106 Freiburg, Germany. e-mail: tonio.ball@uniklinik-freiburg.de

Franziska Thinnes-Elker and Olga Iljina have contributed equally to this work.

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