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02 Nov 2020 by GE
Artificial intelligence is helping paralyzed patients control computers and enabling a fleet of boats to operate autonomously, but it’s not the only kind of intelligence in this week’s coolest scientific discoveries — researchers have come up with a short list for where to look for intelligent life in our cosmic neighborhood.
What is it? Researchers associated with the company Synchron published a study demonstrating a brain-computer interface (BCI) system called a “stentrode,” which could enable patients with paralysis to undertake everyday tasks, including shopping and emailing, through direct thought.
Why does it matter? A Synchron news release says the feasibility study, published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, is the “first to demonstrate that a BCI implanted via the patient’s blood vessels is able to restore the transmission of brain impulses out of the body, and did so wirelessly.” The patients involved in the study could use brain impulses to directly control digital devices without the need for intermediary technology like a touchscreen or voice activation. Such technology could increase the autonomy of, for instance, patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
How does it work? Like a pacemaker, the small device is inserted via blood vessels, so no open brain surgery is required; it ends up in the superior sagittal sinus, adjacent to the primary motor cortex. Patients enrolled in this study used the device in conjunction with a Microsoft Windows 10 operating system and an eye tracker for cursor navigation. After a training process assisted by machine learning, patients learned to accurately click and type in the OS. The first enrolled patient called the neuroprosthesis “life-altering”: “It’s incredible to gain this level of independence back.”