A Glimpse of The Future Tech- Person with Paraplegia Writes Again!

Supriti Tripathy

3rd Nov'21
A Glimpse of The Future Tech- Person with Paraplegia Writes Again! | OpenGrowth

Imagine wanting to express yourself but bottling it all up because you cant. Life is so challenging for people who cannot find the medium to say what they have to. People with paralysis, dysfunctional upper limbs, or ALS(amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) use facial movements and gestures to talk. However, researchers have shared a glimpse of the future where an experiment successfully showed computers turning signals to digital text. Though the possibility was an imagination for many, the AI indulgent technology has given hope with this experiment. We all know the importance of communication in our daily life. The success of this experiment will help us to create more innovative breakthroughs. Let's understand the experiment's procedure, the experience of the individual, the outcome, and the feasibility.


The Experiment

In an experiment conducted at Stanford University in California, a brain-computer interface (BCI) was engrafted on the left side of an individual's brain. This individual of 65 years went by the name of T5 and had paralysis from neck down. His job was to imagine writing his thoughts. The interface was two chips of the size of an aspirin, and its job was to read neurons controlling hand movement. So when the person starts thinking letters, the sensors help convert those into texts.


brain computer interface chips


Neurons have a very crucial part in locomotion in our bodies. They help us move, speak, write, read and conduct many activities. For a person with paralysis, neurons restrict the movement of limbs, and they feel pain or sometimes numbness trying to do everyday activities. In the above experiment, T5 had to imagine writing sentences holding a pen and paper as directed by the researchers. They found that T5 could write as fast as people of his age could text using cell phones. The AI software in the computer decrypted the BCI handwriting messages and produced the result.


Objective Of the Process

The objective of this experiment can be analyzed as follows:

1. To check if the AI-enabled software could interact with the interface implanted on the brain of the person.

2. The speed of decoding the message and typing.

3. To see if T5 can produce readable brain activity as he imagines writing letters since nine years had passed after his accident.

4. What does the AI-driven future look like?


What was the Outcome?

With the progression of the experiment, for the interpretation and conversion, it took nine days in fragments over six weeks. T5 successfully produced about 18 words per minute with an accuracy of over 90 percent. He could reply in 15 words a minute with the same accuracy. An average adult of 65 years can go writing about 24 words per minute. So, this was evidently a breakthrough achievement.

Using an auto-correct app could perfect the accuracy as good as found in phones and other texting platforms. It could reduce the error effect to one percent. The outcome was a practical surprise that could change the complete scenario of the communication process. 


translating messages to text


The research on this single participant has opened the door of possibilities for so many people who have disabilities or cannot interact with people as generally as we do. Moreover, it can also help them use their cognitive abilities for vocations and earn their bread with talent. 

Apparently, earlier studies have shown BCI's effectiveness in moving a cursor over alphabets and selecting the letters through facial tension. Stephen Hawking, the late cosmologist, was using this system to translate his words into speeches. However, the process was time-consuming. In fact, identifying characters through the process of interpretation by the software produces the result with better speed and accuracy.  


Hopes For The Future

The experiment raises our hopes for the possibility of many such technological breakthroughs in the future of healthcare. Moreover, it brings communication to the forefront, an essential skill that makes everything easy for an individual. But the research also spurred the challenges ahead. The whole process, though efficient, is hard to pull for every affected person. Because 

1. It is expensive to have so many chip implantation and cannot be afforded by many.

2. It needs engineers to code the algorithm of decoding.

3. It is not feasible in real-time. 


So the challenge is to keep trying and create technology that can read and decipher without the external indulgence of a coder. Also, how to conduct it all by adopting a wireless technology is another question to sort. Nevertheless, we are getting close to employing the internet of things to impair the broken parts of people's voices.


Technology Has All the Answers

From the cloud concept to the potential of AI and human collaboration, we are continuously evolving. Thanks to the technological innovations and innovators conducting research, regularly developing software and chips that can process human needs. The experiment has given wings to people with paralysis.


communication for all


Considering some of the challenges, assessing how the algorithm could pan out in other languages could be a concern. For example, few letters look similar in some languages, so the corresponding brain signal could confuse the algorithm software. Probably with time, we can be assured of the sophistication in inventions. For example: In the future, maybe in another three or four years, researchers could develop algorithms to translate syllables, phonemes, or images rather than single characters. The development is new and exciting. All we have to wait for and see is how well it progresses. Maybe we will then claim that technology supposedly has all the answers to our problems. 


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A believer of good things and pursuer of diverse avocation, she is a fiction lover and a simple writer. Supriti has a number of professions to her list and she feels challenges are the only answers to failures.


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