Thoughts Become Words With Brain Implant

Eight years ago, an automobile accident left Eric Ramsey conscious but paralyzed; he is unable to communicate except through eye movements. Neuroscientists hope that by tracking the pulses of just forty-one of Ramsey's neurons he might learn to communicate verbally - by thought alone.

(Electrodes planted in that part of the brain that controls speech)

Neurologists implanted a wireless electrode just six millimeters below the surface of his brain. The electrode monitors the pulses sent out by the neurons surrounding it.

In a series of experiments, Ramsey has imagined saying three vowel sounds - "oh", "ee" and "oo". Scientists believe that they can correctly identify the sound that Ramsey is imagining about eighty percent of the time.

Before the end of the year, a computer will analyze and translate his brain impulses into sounds that he can hear immediately, in real time. This feedback should allow him to improve his ability to imagine particular sounds.

The ultimate aim of the experiment is to allow Ramsey to hold conversations, a goal which scientists admit is still far off in the future. But progress is being made.

This does not seem like a far-out idea to me, but that's because I read Oath of Fealty, a 1981 novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In the novel, people with a great deal of money could invest in a communications implant that would allow them to think the words and thereby communicate with a distant computer who could do their bidding, or reply with a mind full of data.

"I used my implant to tell MILLIE what we wanted and she took care of it," Art said.

"I see," Sir George's eyes focused on nothing for a moment.
(Read more about the communications implant)

Via Brain implant turn thoughts to words. Thanks to an anonymous reader for the tip on the science story. Also, Oath of Fealty will be released in paperback in December; perfect timing! And don't worry, it's still futuristic (and a great read).

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/15/2007)

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