Researchers have invented a mind-reading system that, for the first time in history, allows any person to type words and phrases letter by letter, just by thinking. It all occurs in real time, without moving a single muscle or uttering a single word.
This is an amazing invention. Not only it will help anyone with serious motor disabilities, but it could potentially affect all of us in an amazing way.
According to the researchers — Bettina Sorger, Joel Reithler, Brigitte Dahmen, Rainer Goebel at Universiteit Maastricht's Faculty of Psychology & Neuroscience Department of Neurocognition — this is the first system that translates thoughts into letters in real time, allowing "back-and-forth communication within a single scanning session."
Sorger and her colleagues — who were inspired by the work of Adrian Owen — claim that this new system requires very little effort to setup, becoming "immediately operational". They also say that it has a high application potential "both in terms of diagnostics and establishing short-term communication with nonresponsive and severely motor-impaired patients."
How does it work?
Their system uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyse the hemodynamic responses in the brain. These responses are caused by mental images that are tied to each letter of the alphabet. Once the computer is up and running, the patient can freely type letters, one after the other, using their brain. Each alphabet letter plus a space correspond to one of 27 "reliable and differentiable single-trial fMRI signals."
According to their paper, which has been published in the June 28th edition of the journal Current Biology, it has been successfully tried in patients. To set the system up, they looked at the letters on the screen, thinking about something for some time. After going through all the letters, they would be able to start typing in real time thanks to the new data analysis methods developed by Sorger and her team.
Obviously, the decoding is not as fast typing with your fingers, but it's a gigantic step towards achieving a natural brain to machine interface that has the potential of changing the way we interact with technology in a dramatic way.