Boston University scientists have created the world's first communications cyborg. He can only make three vowel sounds at the moment, so he probably sucks at Scrabble, but when you realize that those sounds are coming from a neuroconnection grafted directly into his speech center you have to be impressed.
The subject of this cyborgisation is a victim of "locked-in syndrome", a condition where you are are utterly paralyzed but still fully conscious and aware of your surroundings. Which has to be one of the worst possible things that can happen to anyone. Professor Guenther's team are working to enable this person to speak via technology, advancing our understanding of speech and brain-computer connections while answering once and for all any idiots who ask "What good is science?" Because if you don't think helping someone who's a prisoner in their own skull is worthwhile, your opinion just doesn't count.
The heart of the project is a special neuro-electrode which has been implanted in the patient's brain. Unlike the short-term or skull-mounted probes of other mind-machine work, this device has been coated with chemicals that encourage neurons to grow on and around it, making the electronics a permanent part of the person's head.
Software decodes the signals received by the inner-mind-machinery and can now accurately translate three vowel sounds. The team are continuing to work on improving the system, meaning that while "software updates" for you just mean new themes and having to restart your computer, for one man (and hopefully many more after him) it could make the difference between an eternity of silence and communication. After that, with a perfected brain-computer interface system, there will be no limit to what we could connect.
By Luke McKinney
Neuroelectrode on nature.com
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