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Studying, Measuring and Altering Consciousness through information theory in the electrical brain

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LUMINOUS (Studying, Measuring and Altering Consciousness through information theory in the electrical brain)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-02-28

What is consciousness? Can it be measured? While humankind has struggled with these questions for millennia, our project will focus on more modest but nonetheless ambitious and related goals. Inspired by recent developments in neuroscience and the potential role of fundamental mathematical concepts, we will study, model, quantify, and alter observable aspects of consciousness. Our vision is that consciousness will someday be electromagnetically measured and altered, and that the associated needed insights will prove crucial to the development cognitive sciences.

Supported by computational neuroscience models, we aim to create non-invasive consciousness-probing technologies integrating brain monitoring and stimulation with advanced techniques for data analysis. Based on the derived brain activity metrics, we will explore intervention, i.e. the use of brain stimulation to alter consciousness. To achieve these goals we will pursue computer models of the brain and parallel human studies – in visual perception, sleep, anaesthesia, locked-in syndrome, disorders of consciousness, and in utero – supported by machine learning to disentangle the essential aspects of consciousness and establish links with artificial cognition research.

The project will also explore the ethical implications of such technologies and the prospects for clinical translation. If successful, this paradigm-shifting work will have profound social and clinical impact and provide key insights in fundamental neuroscience and artificial cognition research.

The objectives for the project are the following:

O1. Provide a scientific, theoretical framework of consciousness.

O2. Develop a physiologically validated computer model connecting electrical monitoring and stimulation of the brain with theoretical models of consciousness.

O3. Develop new methods for measuring consciousness.

O4. Develop technology to monitor and alter consciousness in research and medical applications.

O5. Validate and refine the methodology in different clinical scenarios.

O6. Study the societal and ethical implications of these technologies.

O7. Disseminate and exploit the project results via events, publications and products for tangible social impact.
We provide here an overview of the project works conducted so far and their relation to the project objectives listed above.

O1. An extensive review of the current literature about the theoretical models and experimental metrics of consciousness has been conducted. We have analysed 14 different consciousness metrics associated to these theories and pay special attention to their applicability within the Luminous experimental and technology work.

O2. A modelling roadmap of the key aspects to be included in the already existing computational neuroscience global model of EEG has been developed. The overall model will be used to physiologically explain the behaviour of consciousness metrics, for which an illustrative example with local field potential simulations has been already implemented (T1.2).

O3. The works described above will lead to the development of novel metrics. As a starting point consciousness metrics were already developed within T2.3 and compared with classical analysis. Here we have implemented 5 different methodologies for characterizing EEG complexity.

O4. We have developed new models for better targeting consciousness related brain areas.

O5. Consciousness studies in anaesthesia, sleep, completely locked-in-state patients, disorders of consciousness patients, and awake healthy adults were conducted. These studies aim at characterizing consciousness in different states. Indeed, a reliable brain-based measure of consciousness applicable to severely brain-injured patients who are unable to communicate is crucial to overcome the intrinsic limitations of this challenging clinical assessment.

O6. All studies have been conducted under ethical approval of both the local committees and the Ethical Advisory Board. Social implications of the work can be derived from several experimental results. Importantly, data analysis suggests potential overdosing of anaesthesia in 50% of the subjects, whereas insufficient dose for achieving unconsciousness was established in 20% of the subjects. BCI system for CLIS patients was used to ask patients about quality of life (QoL) in T3.3. The questionnaire revealed self-perceived high QoL of these patients.

O7. Ongoing commercialization of StarStim will benefit from ongoing work. Real-time identification of brain measures during titration of anaesthesia may lead to an improvement in anaesthesia monitoring systems.
Project works in the first period confirmed that outcomes will have a fundamental impact in neuroscience, providing key insights into consciousness, how to model, measure and alter it. Concretely:

• The interaction between theory, modelling, and experiment it is showing extremely fruitful in defining physiology-based information-theory models of consciousness, which is crucial for application aspects of the respective concepts.

• The introduction of the Kolmogorov Algorithmic Complexity (KAC), which presents strong links to the mathematical principles of AC and to other fields in cognitive science, has moved forward the creation of a novel consciousness theoretical framework (see D1.1) and influenced the selection of experimental paradigms to be used in WP3. We expect from this knowledge transfer and the associated analysis of results a breakthrough in the theoretical arm.

• Delivery to the machine consciousness and cognitive science community will be realized through publications in general consciousness journals, from which we expect to impact the development of artificial systems.

• The technological advances in the project back up on a new stimulation system StarStim (32-channel, HD electrodes, configurable with diverse waveforms), which was released by Neuroelectrics in September 2016.

• As already mentioned in the Impact section of the DoA, “the technological breakthroughs targeted in the project will further empower Starlab and its sister company Neuroelectrics as high-tech leaders in the field of neuromodulation, creating new technology and very interesting clinical markets”.

• This project will have tremendous clinical and social impact. We have started working to provide tools to alter consciousness levels in sleep, to monitor and alter consciousness levels in DOC, improve communication with patients in LIS, empower anaesthesiologists with tools for measuring consciousness, and open a new window into the brain and consciousness in utero. At this stage the alteration of consciousness in the anaesthesia clinical domain seem far away from achievable goals within project works, which only from the regulatory point of view represent a long-term milestone.

The first period project works have confirmed that advancing in the measurement will raise awareness on ethical issues related to quality of life as well as beginning- and end-of-life issues.
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Different consciousness states and its characterization (Laureys 2005)
Probing the brain with NIBS (Casali et al 2013)
Technologies for consciousness studies in Luminous