Can Computers Read Your Mind?

Image source: http://www.technologyreview.com/sites/default/files/images/implantx299.jpg

Image source: http://www.technologyreview.com/sites/default/files/images/implantx299.jpg

 ALS patients and others suffering from severe paralysis face difficulties communicating with the outside world. However, new technologies, such as ACAT software, are making this easier.

While ACAT and other innovations have helped numerous patients, they aren’t always accurate, are tiring for users, and come with high prices.

Recently, scientists developed an electrode microchip brain implant that can essentially read patients’ minds. Originally used for patients to control prosthetics, this microchip can now read brain activity and directly translate it into action on an electronic device, such as a tablet.

So how does it work? The processer is programmed to “amplify the faint electrical spikes emitted by tiny neurons” and the chip is fitted with “circuits to digitize the information” as well as “a radio to beam it a distance of a few meters to the receiver.”

This transmission occurs at 48 megabits per second, which is about the speed of household internet connections. The device requires 30 milliwatts of power to run, less than a SmartPhone.  It can send 200 DVDs worth of data a day.  However, compared to the brain’s total daily activity, this is fairly low.

The USD$15,000 chip, called “Cereprlex-W,” was developed by researchers at BrainGate, a research consortium based at Brown University and built by Blackrock Microsystems. It is implanted in the motor cortex of the brain and lasts two years, though they hope to improve its lifespan.

The organization has already drastically improved the product since its inception, based on the experiences of six people who have trialed the product. They have developed a titanium cap to fit inside the skull to house the chip, to avoid the danger of wires coming out of one’s skin and to make it more user-friendly for patients at home.  They also hope to integrate more operating systems and apply “click-and-drag” and other features. They are seeking FDA approval so they can undergo further testing.

For further information on the science behind this technology, refer to the following article, published in Nature Medicine:

Henderson, J, et al. Clinical translation of a high-performance neural prosthesis. Nature Medicine. 2015

Source: Shelly Fan, SingularityHUB; Madhumita Venkataramanan, Wired; Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review