‘Mindwriting’: Paralyzed clinical trial patient with brain implant able to ‘type’ words by thinking about writing by hand

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Credit: Eros Dervishi/STAT
Credit: Eros Dervishi/STAT

Call it “mindwriting.” The combination of mental effort and state-of-the-art technology have allowed a man with spinal injury and immobilized limbs, to communicate by text at speeds rivaling those achieved by his able-bodied peers texting on a smartphone. Scientists at Stanford University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Brown University, developed an implanted brain-computer interface (BCI) technology that uses artificial intelligence to convert brain signals generated when someone visualizes the process of handwriting, into text on a computer, in real time.

The system is so fast because each letter elicits a highly distinctive activity pattern, making it relatively easy for the algorithm to distinguish one from another, suggested Frank Willett, PhD, a Stanford, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute research scientist, and first author of the team’s published paper in Nature.

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Next, [co-author Krishna] Shenoy says, the team intends to work with a participant who cannot speak, such as someone with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neurological disorder that results in the loss of movement and speech. In addition, they are looking to increase the number of characters available to the participants, such as capital letters and numbers.

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