In a study published on January 28, 2016, the PLOS Computational Biology revealed groundbreaking research regarding the use of implanted electrodes in the human brain that can interpret brain signals at such speeds as to rival that of natural perception.
That’s the claim of University of Washington neuroscientists and their colleagues who created the system that is implanted into the temporal lobe of the brain and reportedly decodes brain signals.
The team implanted the electrodes into the brains of epilepsy patients at the Seattle Harborview Medical Center. These patients were chosen because usual treatments, like medication, weren’t effective. It was necessary for the researchers to use this procedure temporarily to see if they could find the focal points of the seizures.
With their specialized test of showing images of faces and houses to the patients, the researchers were able to determine in a much broader scale, the affected neurons instead of one neuron in traditional diagnostics. This allowed for an algorithm that analyzed the data to determine on its own what the patient was looking at, whether it was a picture of a house, a face, or a blank screen and to their surprise, the algorithm ascertained the right answer at 96% of the time. It did it at an average speed of 20 milliseconds.
Things get weirder with this area of research. In another experiment researchers were able to get disabled persons to move a finger where they couldn’t do before and they hooked up two brains with electrodes so that the two people could guess what the other was thinking.
This is straight out of science fiction for sure but it’s a reality now.
In theory the use of electrodes of a more complex level could achieve ways for disabled persons to regain lost abilities of mobility and communication.
Dr. Kai Miller is a neurosurgery resident and physicist at Stanford University and the leading author of the study officially entitled, “Decoding of the Timing and Content of Human Object Perception from Cortical Surface Recordings Reveals Complementary information in the Event-Related Potential and Broadband Spectral Change”. In addition, UW Professor Rajesh Rao, Director of the Center for Sensorimotor Engineering, Dora Hermes, Gerwin Shalk, and Jeff Ojemann.
This research heralds a new application of neuroscience that could revolutionize several therapies. The possibilities are astonishing. To be able to get responses via the algorithm at speeds of perception could also mean integration into computing or prosthetic. It could make people with severe disabilities able to partake in daily routines again and even gainful employment.
It’s a good bet this research will continue and catch the eye of the public and industry. Government will be hovering over the research as it could be applied to military use as in a soldier being able to operate systems without hands or for veterans who’ve suffered injuries.
Overall, this brave step in the direction of advanced neuroscience is something that sci-fi writers of old would be proud of.