Patients with severe disabilities such as paralysis are being given new hope of living a more ordinary life thanks to a new research project that focused on turning brain signals into written text. The breakthrough project would allow those with severe motor function issues to be able to communicate in a timely manner without the assistance of others.
Doctors at the University of California worked with three patients who suffer from epilepsy. Neurosurgeons placed electrodes directly onto the brain in an effort to determine where the patients’ seizures were coming from, Fox News reported.
Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon who led the project, asked nine questions and had the patients read 24 potential response. By using a computer model that incorporated brain-reading software, the researchers were able to match brain activity from the patients to the questions and responses previously determined.
“To date there is no speech prosthetic system that allows users to have interactions on the rapid timescale of a human conversation,” Chang explained.
David Moses, a fellow researcher on the project, explained to The Guardian how the technology works. “This is the first time this approach has been used to identify spoken words and phrases,” he said. “It’s important to keep in mind that we achieved this using a very limited vocabulary, but in future studies, we hope to increase the flexibility as well as the accuracy of what we can translate.”
While the technology is in its infantile stage, it’s important to keep in mind the possibilities that this allows for those who have difficulty communicating basic needs and wants. This new technology would use brain signals to pass along answers with an accuracy of 76%.
This software can be built upon, with the end goal being “imagined speech,” a sentence spoken in the mind and transcribed on a virtual keyboard.
Chang made it clear that he isn’t building this software so people can read other’s minds.“I have no interest in developing a technology to find out what people are thinking, even if it were possible,” he said.
“But if someone wants to communicate and can’t, I think we have a responsibility as scientists and clinicians to restore that most fundamental human ability.”