The idea that Professor Robert Knight has is to develop a machine that could communicate people’s intended thoughts via an electronic speaker or writing device. This would be a direct aid to those with the spectrum of motor neuron conditions. A motor neuron disease refers to one of five neurological disorders that selectively affect motor neurons (these are the cells that control voluntary muscles of the body.) These conditions are: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, primary lateral sclerosis, progressive muscular atrophy, progressive bulbar palsy and pseudobulbar palsy. Lou Gehrig’s Disease is an alternative name for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS.)
The idea of machine recording thoughts and playing these back through a speech device or other form of electronic communication has been the stuff of science fiction. However, this concept is no longer far-fetched. Already neuroprosthetics allows people to control artificial arms with their thoughts.
While a fully working machine remains may years away, some recent success has been reported. Professor Knight’s team have managed to playback a word that someone was thinking by monitoring their brain activity and interpreting the brainwaves.
This impressive feat involved decoding electrical activity in the brain’s temporal lobe — the seat of the auditory system. Speaking with the Daily Mail, Professor Knight outlined the next steps: “Now, the challenge is to reproduce comprehensible speech from direct brain recordings done while a person imagines a word they would like to say.”
To achieve the single word recognition has taken years of research, analyzing brain waves through electrodes and attempting to discern the relationship between brainwaves, words and the interpretation of language, The ultimate aim is to develop a fully-working brain implant.
Some of the work to date has been published in the journal PLoS Biology (“Reconstructing Speech from Human Auditory Cortex.”)