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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When thoughts become words

Eight years ago, an automobile accident left Eric Ramsey conscious but paralyzed; he is unable to communicate except through eye movements. Neuroscientists hope that by tracking the pulses of just forty-one of Ramsey's neurons he might learn to communicate verbally - by thought alone.

Neurologists implanted a wireless electrode just six millimeters below the surface of his brain. The electrode monitors the pulses sent out by the neurons surrounding it.

In a series of experiments, Ramsey has imagined saying three vowel sounds - "oh", "ee" and "oo". Scientists believe that they can correctly identify the sound that Ramsey is imagining about eighty percent of the time.

Before the end of the year, a computer will analyze and translate his brain impulses into sounds that he can hear immediately, in real time. This feedback should allow him to improve his ability to imagine particular sounds.

The ultimate aim of the experiment is to allow Ramsey to hold conversations, a goal which scientists admit is still far off in the future. But progress is being made.

Technovelgy.com
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