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Scientists create a mind-reading machine: lets brain talk to computer

With a brain-machine interface, Washington University in St. Louis scientists are working to translate thoughts into action.
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Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

It's possible that one day, your brain could talk to your computer.

But it's not as futuristic as it sounds. Soon, a brain-computer device could help patients, who have lost their ability to communicate, "talk" again.

As long as a patient has a temporary surgical implant, thinking of a sound is enough to move the cursor on a computer.

Normally, brain-computer interfaces are designed to control muscles, by tapping into the brain's motor networks. But those devices aren't necessarily that good at helping patients communicate.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis wanted to tap into the speech part of the brain to see if it was possible to translate thoughts into action.

Washington scientist Eric Leuthardt said in a statement:

"There are many directions we could take this, including development of technology to restore communication for patients who have lost speech due to brain injury or damage to their vocal cords or airway."

In the study, researchers asked epilepsy patients with the temporary surgical implants to communicate. The patients were asked to say or think of four sounds such as oo, as in few and e, as in see. By studying brainwave patterns associated with these sounds, the researchers programmed the brain-computer device to pick up on the sounds.

Fortunately, it's not like the speech recognition programs that require a lot of training. The researchers showed that patients could control the computers accurately, up to 90 percent of the time.

Sure, this device might sound creepy. But a technology that can turn thoughts into a command - and give people, who normally can't communicate, a way to convey what they are thinking.

That could be really life-changing.

Obviously, the device can't truly read minds.

Recognizing an "a" sound is much different than unraveling what is happening in the brain. Now, if it could do that, the device would be utterly revealing.

via Brain waves from thoughts of sounds used to move cursor [BBC News] and Washington University in St. Louis

Photo: Eric Leuthardt, MD

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