Researchers at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Facebook developed a “speech neuroprosthesis”, or brain-computer interface, that allowed a man with severe paralysis to communicate in sentences. How so? This interface translated the signals from his brain to the vocal tract directly into words that appear as text on a screen. This also marked the first time in over 16 years that he’d been able to communicate without having to use a head-mounted device. Read more for a video and additional information.
With this new implant, the patient only had to attempt speaking, and a computer would then share those words in real time without requiring any typing. This means it’s capable of tracking brain activity in regions controlling vocal systems, which means the proper signals are still being transmitted to those body parts, such as the jaw and larynx.
With speech, we normally communicate information at a very high rate, up to 150 or 200 words per minute. Going straight to words, as we’re doing here, has great advantages because it’s closer to how we normally speak. To our knowledge, this is the first successful demonstration of direct decoding of full words from the brain activity of someone who is paralyzed and cannot speak. It shows strong promise to restore communication by tapping into the brain’s natural speech machinery,” said senior author Edward Chang.