Computers to the Rescue Through Brain Interfaces for Those Without Speech
Patients unable to speak because of a physical disorder/syndrome are now realizing the richness of computers to provide them with “speech” in the form of text.
Communicating with each other, we give little thought to the fact that the sequence between thought and spoken speech happens with little effort on our part. But if we had the disorder known as “locked-in syndrome,” we would quickly develop an incredible appreciation for speech production along with thought. What if we had ALS? Again, our brain is functioning, but our body is shutting down. It’s often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
A curious incidence of ALS has been found in research. Individuals in the Midwest were more likely to have ALS compared with other regions of the US. The South had the lowest incidence rate. But a similar plethora of specific illnesses had been found between geographic location and MS. If there is some climactic or environmental or latitude connection, it hasn’t been discovered yet.
Although ALS isn’t found in great numbers (estimated 12–15K) in the research, individuals having thought without an ability to control any part of their body, much less speech, remains an important research effort. And it’s happening. The future will belong to BCI (brain-computer interfaces).
The brain has 400 miles of blood vessels, and this rich highway presents endless opportunities for innovative technologies. One of the latest technologies, brain stents embedded with tiny microchips, is modeled after the stents used in cardiac surgeries. There’s one exception with this technology; these stents don’t require surgery, and they communicate with computers. In addition, there is no blood/brain barrier for them.
Tapping Into the Brain’s Signals
Computer interfaces may come to the rescue of not only those who suffer from this syndrome but for the rest of us who are seeking freedom from typing or even speaking in the production of documents for personal use or business.
The notion that I could produce words on a computer simply by thinking of them is not far-fetched or science fiction. We’ve seen what they were able to do for Stephen Hawking, but he didn’t have a brain implant and used a cheek muscle.
There is work being done in BCI that will progress to the point where we will no longer be amazed by it. Advancing further, BCI may allow us to communicate emotion to another person without struggling for just the right words to express it; they will know what we mean instantly.
Music production is a possibility, too, and I have written about this on Medium. Remember that Mozart said he heard his entire productions, down to each instrument, in his head before he made his musical notation? He was producing codable music.
The Future Dangers
Future changes to technology and algorithms offer promise not only to patients but to the whole of society in reduced medical expenses, as outlined in an article on it. The upcoming era of BCI technology will soon improve the quality of lives of many disabled individuals who are not able to speak, utilize their limbs to operate assistive devices and reduce the cost of their medical expenses.
Researchers are now working in neuroscience, engineering, physiology, psychology, computer science, mathematics, and rehabilitation.
The theory related to the evolution of BCI is simple. While there may be an interruption of neural connections due to disease or injury, the brain can still produce signals for the actions that are eliminated. Computers can be trained to pick up these brain-generated signals and convert them into whatever is needed, or that is the hope.
But what of thoughts transmitted to others without speech of any kind? Is it possible or still in the realm of science fiction? Questions arise, naturally, when code is being transmitted to a hardware unit that may be autonomous.
If code can be hacked, it is reasonable to assume that all this BCI code may be hackable, too. The possibilities can be frightening, and the implications are legal regarding the responsibility of actions performed by AI hardware, regardless of who generated the signals for the code.
We know the courts have decided that AI is not permitted to get copyrights on the material (code) it has generated on its own. How will they rule if the AI is sentient (as a Google engineer said it would be) and engages in a questionable activity on its own, too? AI can’t be fined or given a prison sentence. Will HAL have to be disrupted or have its memory erased?
Imagine the possibilities for Bluetooth and what it will enable us to do in the future. Seemingly impossible things will be ordinary, and our minds may find it challenging to keep up with AI. Will it “see” us as inferior?
Be sure to see the references on the article at:
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