- A fascinating article describing how a paralysed man has had a device implanted into his brain, which decodes signals in the brain that once controlled his vocal tract. After several months of training, the system has a vocabulary of 50 words and the man can communicate at a rate of 15 words per minute. Normal speech is in the region of 120-150 words per minute. A professor at Stanford University acknowledges the 50-word vocabulary as a “huge achievement”, but also feels the vocabulary “could easily become 500 or 5,000 words.”
- The anonymous patient in question is in his 30s, and has been unable to speak since a stroke 15 years ago. His arms, legs and vocal tract are paralysed, but the areas of the brain that once issued speech commands are intact. There was initially some doubt that the speech commands in the brain would still work after 15 years without use.
- An ethical dilemma raised in the article is that it will be possible to “eavesdrop” on the brain. We need to ensure that such devices “allow people to be able to think their private thoughts without anything just being broadcast to the world”. This “may be easier with devices that rely on brain signals that control muscles, because these signals generally aren’t sent unless a person makes a conscious attempt at movement”.
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