The Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland, developed a brain implant that can help those who are fully paralyzed.
They put the implant to the test on a 34-year-old man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), who demonstrated that simple yes/no thoughts could be turned into phrases.
“I want a beer,” he said, according to The Independent, among other completely legitimate but somewhat unexpected requests.
Among them were requested to listen to Tool at a “high” volume, a head massage from his mother, and a curry order.
With no capacity to move his eyes or make voluntary muscular motions, the guy was able to interact with his carers and family using just his thoughts, creating sentences at a rate of one character per minute by answering yes/no to each question.
He had two square electrode arrays surgically placed into his brain to facilitate communication after being left in a locked-in state due to ALS:
According to the Independent report, “It took three months of unsuccessful attempts before a configuration was achieved that allowed the patient to use brain signals to produce a binary response to a speller program, answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when presented with letters.”
Three weeks later, he could produce his first sentences, and over the next year, dozens more.
What was previously thought of as relatively impossible, is now a success. Dr. Jonas Zimmermann, is a senior neuroscientist at the Wyss Center said in a statement:
“Ours is the first study to achieve communication by someone who has no remaining voluntary movement and hence for whom the BCI is now the sole means of communication.”
“This study answers a long-standing question about whether people with complete locked-in syndrome – who have lost all voluntary muscle control, including movement of the eyes or mouth – also lose the ability of their brain to generate commands for communication.”
Aside from the more bizarre requirements, the man also requested that his head be properly supported when visitors came and that he be fed a variety of foods through his tubes.
Goulash soup, sweet pea soup, and “curry with potato, then Bolognese and potato soup” were among the dishes.
Heartwarmingly, he was also able to send his four-year-old son a message: “I love my cool son.”