After sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2007, one man became paralyzed from the neck down. Now, thanks to a device called BrainGate, he can communicate his thoughts, making it easy for him to ‘speak’ again.
The device is a part of a longstanding research program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret signals generated via neural activity. For the study, the man is referred to as T5. He was 65 during the study. The device was implanted in his brain, and the results of the study were published in the New England journal of medicine.
To observe how the device worked, researchers had the man concentrate as though he were writing, thinking about drawing imaginary words on the paper. Throughout the process, the electrodes from the device which were implanted in his motor cortex recorded the signals and then decoded the words.
“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.
What is even more interesting is that while devices in the past could also decode, it took them much longer. This particular device is about as fast as typing would be, especially for this man’s age group.
Throughout tests, he was able to reach writing speeds of around 90 characters per minute, at a 94% accuracy.
While this is merely a small step in the right direction, future testing would include others being trained to use the interface and also the expansion of the available characters for use, which are currently just the main alphabet and a few punctuation marks. In the future, we could see more paralyzed patients and those who cannot speak being able to communicate clearly and openly.