More than 15 years ago, a man who was only 20 years old had a massive stroke when a major artery supplying his brain stem burst. The incident left him unable to control his limbs or any muscles related to speech. With a device that relied on his head motions to control a keyboard, he could produce about five words a minute, one character at a time. The typical rate when someone is speaking fluidly can be up to 200 words a minute.
Now he is the first person ever to produce whole words via a computer intermediate that decodes his brain’s messages. A processor connected to an array of electrodes implanted in his brain receives the messages and translates them into words displayed on a screen. As researchers reported on July 14 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the man, who is now in his late 30s, used this brain-computer interface, or BCI, to produce whole words outside of his brain for the first time since his stroke. In fact, with a suite of at least 50 words, he could even transmit up to 1,000 complete sentences.
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