Feedback for reinforcement learning based brain-machine interfaces using confidence metrics

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective. For brain-machine interfaces (BMI) to be used in activities of daily living by paralyzed individuals, the BMI should be as autonomous as possible. One of the challenges is how the feedback is extracted and utilized in the BMI. Our long-term goal is to create autonomous BMIs that can utilize an evaluative feedback from the brain to update the decoding algorithm and use it intelligently in order to adapt the decoder. In this study, we show how to extract the necessary evaluative feedback from a biologically realistic (synthetic) source, use both the quantity and the quality of the feedback, and how that feedback information can be incorporated into a reinforcement learning (RL) controller architecture to maximize its performance. Approach. Motivated by the perception-action-reward cycle (PARC) in the brain which links reward for cognitive decision making and goal-directed behavior, we used a reward-based RL architecture named Actor-Critic RL as the model. Instead of using an error signal towards building an autonomous BMI, we envision to use a reward signal from the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) which plays a key role in the linking of reward to motor behaviors. To deal with the complexity and non-stationarity of biological reward signals, we used a confidence metric which was used to indicate the degree of feedback accuracy. This confidence was added to the Actor's weight update equation in the RL controller architecture. If the confidence was high (>0.2), the BMI decoder used this feedback to update its parameters. However, when the confidence was low, the BMI decoder ignored the feedback and did not update its parameters. The range between high confidence and low confidence was termed as the 'ambiguous' region. When the feedback was within this region, the BMI decoder updated its weight at a lower rate than when fully confident, which was decided by the confidence. We used two biologically realistic models to generate synthetic data for MI (Izhikevich model) and NAcc (Humphries model) to validate proposed controller architecture. Main results. In this work, we show how the overall performance of the BMI was improved by using a threshold close to the decision boundary to reject erroneous feedback. Additionally, we show the stability of the system improved when the feedback was used with a threshold. Significance: The result of this study is a step towards making BMIs autonomous. While our method is not fully autonomous, the results demonstrate that extensive training times necessary at the beginning of each BMI session can be significantly decreased. In our approach, decoder training time was only limited to 10 trials in the first BMI session. Subsequent sessions used previous session weights to initialize the decoder. We also present a method where the use of a threshold can be applied to any decoder with a feedback signal that is less than perfect so that erroneous feedback can be avoided and the stability of the system can be increased.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number036016
JournalJournal of neural engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 30 2017


  • biological feedback
  • brain machine interface
  • confidence
  • decoder
  • nucleus Accumbens
  • reinforcement learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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