A confidence metric for using neurobiological feedback in actor-critic reinforcement learning based brain-machine interfaces

Noeline W. Prins, Justin C. Sanchez, Abhishek Prasad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMIs) can be used to restore function in people living with paralysis. Current BMIs require extensive calibration that increase the set-up times and external inputs for decoder training that may be difficult to produce in paralyzed individuals. Both these factors have presented challenges in transitioning the technology from research environments to activities of daily living (ADL). For BMIs to be seamlessly used in ADL, these issues should be handled with minimal external input thus reducing the need for a technician/caregiver to calibrate the system. Reinforcement Learning (RL) based BMIs are a good tool to be used when there is no external training signal and can provide an adaptive modality to train BMI decoders. However, RL based BMIs are sensitive to the feedback provided to adapt the BMI. In actor-critic BMIs, this feedback is provided by the critic and the overall system performance is limited by the critic accuracy. In this work, we developed an adaptive BMI that could handle inaccuracies in the critic feedback in an effort to produce more accurate RL based BMIs. We developed a confidence measure, which indicated how appropriate the feedback is for updating the decoding parameters of the actor. The results show that with the new update formulation, the critic accuracy is no longer a limiting factor for the overall performance. We tested and validated the system onthree different data sets: synthetic data generated by an Izhikevich neural spiking model, synthetic data with a Gaussian noise distribution, and data collected from a non-human primate engaged in a reaching task. All results indicated that the system with the critic confidence built in always outperformed the system without the critic confidence. Results of this study suggest the potential application of the technique in developing an autonomous BMI that does not need an external signal for training or extensive calibration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue number8 MAY
StatePublished - 2014


  • Actor-critic
  • Brain-machine interface
  • Feedback
  • hebbian
  • Reinforcement learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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