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Brain breakthrough offers hope of speech for paralyzed individuals

  • 2 Min To Read
  • 6 months ago

In a recent breakthrough, scientists have developed a device that can convert brain signals into words for paralyzed individuals. This technology has the potential to revolutionize communication for people with conditions such as motor-neurone disease (MND) or paralysis caused by strokes or brain diseases. Two studies published in the journal Nature discuss the successful implementation of this technology.

One study conducted at Stanford University involved a participant named Pat Bennett, who suffers from MND. Surgeons implanted four sensors into Bennett's brain, specifically in areas that control speech. These sensors decode the brain signals associated with forming words, allowing an algorithm to translate them into actual words on a screen. After four months of training, the system was able to translate Bennett's speech at a rate of 62 words per minute, which is three times faster than previous technology. However, there were still errors in about one in ten words and a quarter of Bennett's extensive vocabulary.

In another study at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), a participant named Ann, who has severe paralysis following a stroke, was able to speak through a digital avatar. More than 250 electrodes implanted on the surface of Ann's brain decoded her signals, and an algorithm recreated her voice based on a recording of her speaking at her wedding. This system achieved a rate of nearly 80 words per minute with a larger vocabulary and fewer mistakes than previous methods.

Both studies highlight the potential of this technology to restore communication abilities to individuals who have lost their ability to speak. However, researchers acknowledge that there is still work to be done before this technology can be used in everyday life. The current error rate and limitations in vocabulary size need to be addressed. Nonetheless, the progress made is a significant step forward.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) has played a crucial role in these advancements, and researchers are now looking into turning this technology into a medical device. At present, individuals with MND can use eye-tracking systems to communicate, but it can be time-consuming. The MND Association is excited about the potential of this research, although they caution that it is still in its early stages.

Overall, these studies demonstrate the potential of brain-computer interfaces to enable paralyzed individuals to communicate effectively. With continued advancements in technology and AI, the hope is that real-time communication at a natural pace can be achieved, allowing individuals to maintain relationships and participate in daily activities more easily.

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