A brain implant enables writing with thought for 1st time

It is not science fiction. They have already tested a brain implant on a volunteer that converts their thoughts into text written on a computer. The system allows people with motor disabilities, such as paralysis, to communicate with their thoughts.

The volunteer, who will go down in neuroscience history, has been a 65-year-old man with a motor paralysis that prevents him from moving from the neck down.

Tiny electrodes have been implanted on the surface of your brain. The electrodes read electrical activity in the part of the brain that controls hand and finger movements and an algorithm converts them into text. This research represents a milestone in human brain research.

The volunteer imagined writing his thoughts, letter by letter, with his fingers. I mean, he had to imagine that he was writing. Researchers have discovered the precise neural patterns for this exercise. That is, what networks of neurons come into play when you write. And they have developed an algorithm capable of detecting this pattern, associated with each of the letters of the imagined words. In this way, the volunteer’s thought becomes a text.

Just from his brain activity, the participant, as explained in the study published in Nature, produced 90 characters, or 15 words, per minute, according to Krishna Shenoy, a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of Stanford University

That’s as fast as the average typing rate of people the participant’s age on smartphones.

The brain remembers how to write years after injury

A brain implant in human
Brain Implant

One of the great findings of the research has been that, although the patient had lost mobility many years ago, his brain had not lost the ability to write, and he remembered how to do it. “The big surprise is that even years and years after the spinal cord injury, after which you have not been able to use your hands or fingers, it is still possible to detect the electrical activity of the brain that allows you to write,” says Shenoy.

Thought-driven communication  is still in its early stages. Research with more volunteers is needed, but “there’s little doubt this will work again for other people,” Shenoy says. In the near future, the researchers plan to test the system on a person who has lost both the ability to move and to speak.

In Technoeager | What is neuromorphic computing? The brain on a chip

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