The iBrain: mind reading devices might not be so far away

Summary:Reading the electrical signals in our brains, new devices hope to give the power of communication to those who can no longer speak.

Our brains are vastly powerful devices. But alone, without the help of the mouth, eyes and hands and other appendages, brains are nearly useless. Just ask Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant minds in the world, who can no longer communicate with his mouth or hands. Confined to a wheel chair, he speaks by twitching his cheek, a long and laborious process that lags far behind his genius mind.

But as technology gets better and better, our brian might be able to break free from the confines of its parters in communication. Researchers at NeuroVigil, a company based in San Diego, are developing what they're calling the "iBrain" - a new brain monitoring device that could

The iBrain was first developed to monitor and diagnose conditions. The device picks up the electrical signals produced by the brain as it goes through the paces - generating words, remembering names, telling stories and so on. That's the easy part. The hard part is making sense of those readings. By the time the electricity has made it to the iBrain, it's traveled through tissue, fluid and bone, all of which can muddle the signal.

So who better to test the iBrain algorithm on than Stephen Hawking - the genius physicists and mathematician who has been paralyzed by Lou Gehrig's disease. The iBrain would provide a whole new way for Hawking, and others with motor difficulties that impair their abilities to express themselves. By wearing the black headband around, the researchers will be able to collect data from Hawking's brain and compare it to their model for interpreting brain signals.

Hawking hopes that his help will encourage people to develop better brain readers. "I am participating in this project in the hope that I can offer insights and practical advice to NeuroVigil. I wish to assist in research, encourage investment in this area, and, most importantly, to offer some future hope to people diagnosed with A.L.S. and other neurodegenerative conditions” he said in a statement.

There are other brain monitors like the iBrain out there, things like Zeo and Emotive Systems - both of which have developed apps to measure neurological activity. All combined, we are moving towards a future where physical impairment might have no power to stop our minds.

Via: New York Times

Image: Spec-ta-cles / Flickr

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Full Bio

Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.