Scientists successfully turn a paralyzed man's brainwaves of into sentences
Each year, thousands of people suffer from a stroke, accident, or disease which causes them to lose their ability to speak. But now, UC San Francisco researchers have developed a "speech neuroprosthesis" that allowed a man with severe paralysis to communicate in sentences. Eventually, this new technology could return full communication to thousands.
So how does it work?
Through this innovative technology, brain signals are translated directly into words that appear as text on a screen. The achievement builds on UCSF neurosurgeon Edward Chang's decades of effort to develop a technology that allows people with paralysis to communicate even if they aren't able to speak.
Prior to now, communication neuroprosthetics has mainly focused on spelling-based approaches for typing out letters one at a time in text.
Chang's study differs from these in a key way: Instead of translating signals for moving the arm or hand for typing, the group is translating signals intended to control muscles of the vocal system. According to Chang, this approach taps into the natural and fluid aspects of speech and offers more rapid and organic communication.
According to Chang, “To our knowledge, this is the first successful demonstration of direct decoding of full words from the brain activity of someone who is paralyzed and cannot speak ... It shows strong promise to restore communication by tapping into the brain’s natural speech machinery.”
“With speech, we normally communicate information at a very high rate, up to 150 or 200 words per minute,” he said, noting that spelling-based approaches using typing, writing, and controlling a cursor are considerably slower and more laborious. “Going straight to words, as we’re doing here, has great advantages because it’s closer to how we normally speak.”