Mind-controlled computer operation

Posted May 2nd, 2011 at 3:15 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

Mouse and keyboard… that’s how most of us interact with our computer. You either click at or type in your data.  We’ve pretty much have gotten used to operating our PC’s and other like devices this way… for some its become second nature.  But, how about a new way interact with that computer? Can you imagine being able to operate a computer or some sort of robotic device by just thinking about it?  Well, it could be a reality sooner than you realize.

For the last 10 to 15 years, scientists from around the world have been hard at work on  a new form of technology called the Brain Computer Interface (BCI).  The BCI is a piece of equipment designed to oversee and interpret the electrical impulses of the user’s thoughts. It then converts that information into some kind of machine control – which in turn, can operate those computers and robotic devices.

A number of experiments conducted over the past several years have produced results – in both animal and human subjects - where such machine control is accomplished with brain signals alone.

According to a new study published in the Institute of Physics Journal of Neural Engineering, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, recently demonstrated that humans can control a cursor on a computer screen using words spoken out loud and in their head. This could lead to the development of a variety of applications for those who may have limited physical ability but also those who lost their speech through brain injury.

Scientists found that by directly connecting a patient’s brain to a computer via a technique called electrocortiography (ECoG) – which involves placing electrodes directly onto a patient’s brain – the computer could be controlled with up to 90 percent accuracy, even when no prior training was given.

The trials involved patients sitting in front of a screen and trying to move a cursor toward a target using predefined words that were associated with specific directions. For instance, saying or thinking of the word “Ah” would move the cursor right.

The researchers hope that, at some point in the future, they can permanently insert implants into a patient’s brain to help restore functionality and, even more impressively, read someone’s mind.

“This is one of the earliest examples, to a very, very small extent, of what is called ‘reading minds’ — detecting what people are saying to themselves in their internal dialogue,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Eric C Leuthardt from the Washington University School of Medicine. “We want to see if we cannot just detect when you’re saying ‘dog,’ ‘tree’, ‘tool’ or some other word, but also learn what the pure idea of that looks like in your mind. It’s exciting and a little scary to think of reading minds, but it has incredible potential for people who can’t communicate or are suffering from other disabilities.”

Watch a video featuring Dr. Leuthardt on this topic – “The Emerging World of ECoG Neuroprosthetics”

 

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Comments are closed.