As you may recall from a long-ago science class, the human brain runs on electricity. Scientists have long been able to measure and track electrical signals, but a new study shows how these signals can do something that seems straight out of science fiction: Using a brain-computer interface (BCI), a man with full-body paralysis wrote words using only his mind.
To accomplish this, the man had electrodes inserted into his brain, then pictured writing letters in his mind’s eye. This act caused a pattern of electrical signals to erupt in his brain which were picked up by the electrodes. These electrodes connected with artificial intelligence software and the software replicated the imagined letters on a computer screen. Each letter, which previously only existed in this man’s imagination, could now be read off the computer by anyone in the room at a rate of 90 characters a minute. Researchers hope to increase these speeds.
Frank Willett, head researcher on this project, believes that his work will help many people. “This line of work could help restore communication in people who are severely paralyzed, or ‘locked-in.’ It should help people express themselves and share their thoughts. It’s very exciting,” he shared.