Mind-machine connection intensifies as researchers develop new technology
Device that allows people to type with their minds could change lives.
Mon, Dec 07, 2009 at 03:45 PM
MIND GAMES: Scientists are working on computer devices that allow people to type with their thoughts. (Photo: Paul Cooklin/Flickr)
You know that episode of House where Mos Def suffers from "locked-in syndrome" and the doctors plug a computer into his brain so he can communicate his thoughts? Turns out, the technology isn't so far-fetched. LiveScience reports that researchers are moving forward with a machine that allows people to type words by focusing on images of letters.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., were observing epileptic patients who had electrodes surgically implanted directly on the brain, unlike most other research of this type that uses electrodes placed on the scalp. Directly implanting the electrodes can offer faster results than the external electrodes might, researchers say. In the experiment, patients studied grids of letters, focusing on particular letters while computers recorded their brains' responses. Eventually, the article reports, "after the system was calibrated to each patient's specific brain waves, when the patient focused on a letter, the letter appeared on the screen."
Jerry Shih, the neuroscientist leading the study, said the machine had nearly 100 percent accuracy at predicting the patients' desired letters. Shih says his technology would require a craniotomy for future users (who could probably have the communicative computer implanted), but the brain waves could eventually communicate actions, including the ability to move prosthetic limbs. The possibilities for such an assistive device are endless and potentially life changing for millions of Americans. Shih says his research, "represents tangible progress in using brain waves to do certain tasks."