Researchers at the University of Utah have used an array of microelectrodes placed over the brains speech centres to capture brain waves and convert them into the spoken word, well sort of. The accuracy was actually quite low, only 48% accuracy with a set of 10 words, however when using a set of only two, yes and no, they achieved 90% accuracy which can certainly be no fluke. Trials have been very narrow so far i.e. only tested on one patient but they are hoping to work on the design of the equipment and begin clinical trials in the next couple of years.
“This is quite a simple technology … based on devices that have been used in humans for 50 years now,” said bioengineer Bradley Greger of the University of Utah, the lead author of a report in the Journal of Neuroengineering. “We’re pretty hopeful that, with a better design, we’ll be able to decode more words and, in two or three years get approval for a real feasibility trial in paralyzed patients,” he said.
The electrodes cannot be placed on the patients scalp because the signals from the speech centres would be too weak and cannot be implanted into the brain for fear of causing irreparable damage and so two arrays, each with 16 microelectrodes were placed directly on the brain of a volunteer patient with epilepsy whose skull had already been opened to measure aberrant electrical signals that trigger seizures. To improve the accuracy the team are now working on grids of 121 sensors.
This latest development in the quest to understand the human brain comes straight from the science fiction isle of your local library. Sure, it’s being designed right now for people paralyzes by stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease or trauma unable to communicate except, perhaps, by blinking an eyelid but it would be so unlike me not to point out the obvious. Yes its very early doors but if this works out who knows where it could stop… Taking it to its logical extreme, with a pair of implanted transmitter/receiver devices it could allow the first real telepathy!
Credit: University of Utah Department of Neurosurgery