Brain Implant Read Paralyzed Man’s Thoughts As Text With 94% Accuracy

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Look at the words you are reading right now. You’re not putting much effort behind reading them, and yet with each word your eyes glance over, you’re able to translate the words on the screen to meaning. If I asked you to speak back to me, you would open your mouth or type, and the words would flow out. This is a privilege.

The ability to communicate is instinctive for all of us. But imagine you get into a horrible accident, and suddenly you lose the mobility and function that allows you to communicate. You would feel completely isolated and trapped in your own body, unable to express the still active thoughts.

That’s exactly what happened to a man who, after sustaining a spinal cord injury, became paralyzed from the neck down. This is how science was able to save him.

A Source Of Hope

The meaning we give to life is based on our interactions. The relationships we form, whether professional, intimate, or social, all fulfill our lives differently. To take away our ability to speak is to take away the core of the expression of our identity.

/photo-of-person-using-wheelchair-
Marcus Aurelius / Pexels
Marcus Aurelius / Pexels

However, a device called BrainGate, allowed the paralyzed man to communicate his thoughts, making it easy for him to ‘speak’ again and giving everyone who might share the same circumstances hope.

How It Works

Scientists believe they have come up with a solution to paralysis regarding communication. To see if their device worked, they had the paralyzed man concentrate on his thoughts as though he were writing.

Brain-computer interface implant chip. ()
BrainGate Via Science Alert
BrainGate Via Science Alert

The 65-year-old man was only thinking about drawing imaginary words on the paper. However, he wasn’t doing any actual writing, as his hand, along with all his limbs, had been paralyzed for many years.

While he used the power of his thoughts and imagination to picture the letters and the imaginary pen and paper, the electrodes from the device, which were implanted in his motor cortex, recorded the signals and then transcribed the words.

As Fast As Typing

It is believed that our most powerful tool is our own thoughts. Thoughts can turn into visions which turn into manifestations through action. Thoughts completely dictate our moods, mentality, values and by extension our whole identity and interaction with the world. What this device does is give thoughts a vessel even when the body is no longer able to.

person-using-macbook-pro-
Cottonbro studio / Pexels
Cottonbro studio / Pexels

While scientists have used devices in the past to also decode, they took much longer to process. This time, the device is about as fast as typing would be, especially for this man’s age group.

What’s most fascinating is that he was able to reach writing speeds of around 90 characters per minute at a 94% accuracy!

The Power of Language

Isn’t it incredible how we put a bunch of syllables and doodles together, and we’re able to know exactly what they mean in our given language? Language is powerful, but we’re the ones that give it meaning. This device is an extension of that.

alpahbet letters in blue
Frank Willett / Via Science Alert
Frank Willett / Via Science Alert

It’s completely implanted within the brain. It uses artificial intelligence to interpret signals through neural activity. Then the electrodes implanted in the motor cortex part of the brain record signals of the man’s brain activity. These signals are then intre[reted by algorithms that show up on an external computer.

The algorithm can trace the 26 letters of the alphabet and even some basic punctuation marks.

Anything Is Possible

The more we advance science and technology, the more heights we reach in our potential as human beings. While the brain is very complex, when we use the brain to study itself, we push the limits of what we thought was possible for ourselves. This is another innovation that allows for artificial neural representations of handwriting.

/person-holding-white-ceramci-be-happy-painted-mug-while writing
Lisa Fotios / Pexels
Lisa Fotios / Pexels

“This new system uses both the rich neural activity recorded by intracortical electrodes and the power of language models that, when applied to the neurally decoded letters, can create rapid and accurate text,” explains the first author of the study, Frank Willett.

This innovation allowed us to discover a quicker motor skill that might be retained in the brain and how we can take advantage of it to communicate with a brain-computer interface.

What’s In Store For The Future?

The future might be unknown, but thanks to our constant discoveries and advances, it’s bright and full of opportunities. This brain implant is a step in the right direction in medicine, science, technology, and humanity itself.

We still need more testing to see how we can include the nuances that make language with humans unique such as tone, sarcasm, or pitch. But for now, were able to give paralyzed patients a chance to speak and communicate again, preserving their thoughts and identities.

Still Lots To Be Done

While this device is first-of-its-kind technology, the researchers want to remind us that the current system is only a proof of concept as they have only tested it with one participant. They need to keep making sure that it will work with various people before making it clinically accessible.

A diagram of how the system works. ()
F. Willett et al., Nature, 2021, Erika Woodrum
F. Willett et al., Nature, 2021, Erika Woodrum

There still of work to still be done, but this opens the door for new ways of communication for those who lost it. It also gives hope that we have the power to go above and beyond the limits we thought were imposed on us by nature. The question is though, “should we be going against nature?”

What About You?

The scientists behind this study share: “We believe that the future of intracortical BCIs is bright.” They are making it their life’s purpose to keep advancing their technology and science in general.

man pointing under tree and blue sky
Flávio Santos / Pexels
Flávio Santos / Pexels

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Aria Misty

Aria Misty is a recent university grad. She did her undergrad in media, information & technoculture with a Master in Journalism & Communications in 2018.

Aria has a particular interest in all things astrology and spirituality. This is driven by her desire to create healing. In fact, Aria went back to school for A master’s in counseling p[…]