Science breakthrough: Man uses brain-computer interface to ask for beer

In a recent study published by Nature Communicationscientists from the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland have shared remarkable new details about a human being using a brain-computer interface to ask if he can drink a beer and listen to TOOL.

The patient, a 36-year-old man who has been in a “completely locked-up state” for several years as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In this case, that includes the muscles of his eyes. Most previous brain-interface experiments with people with paralysis have relied on implants in places such as the eyes, where the system can pick up electrical impulses from muscle movement. But it didn’t work in this case, as they explain:

None of them [previous] studies have demonstrated communication at the level of voluntary sentence formation in CLIS [completely locked-in state] individuals, who lack stable and reliable eye/muscle movement control or who have their eyes closed, leaving the possibility open that once all movement – and therefore all possibility of communication – is lost, the neural mechanisms to produce the communication will fail simultaneously.

[…]

This participant was implanted with intracortical microelectrode arrays in two areas of the motor cortex. The patient, who is in home care, then used an auditory-guided neurofeedback-based strategy to modulate neural firing rates to select letters and form words and sentences using software personalized. Prior to implantation, this individual was unable to express their needs and wishes through noninvasive methods, including eye tracking, visual eye movement categorization, or an eye movement-based BCI system.

After three months of testing, the researchers found news to translate the patient’s communications – essentially (as I understand it) by tracking the electrical impulses of the patient’s attempts to produce different auditory frequencies. They gradually developed his communication skills until finally, this happened:

The patient also participated in social interactions and requested entertainment (“come tonight [to continue with the speller]’, day 203, 247, 251, 294, 295, ‘wili ch tool balbum mal laut hoerenzn’ – ‘I would like to listen to the Tool album [a band] strong”, day 245, “und jetwzt ein bier” – “and now a beer”, day 247 (fluids should be inserted through the gastro tube), 251, 253, 461.

After swinging with a brewski, he also had the chance to bond with his son:

He interacted with his son and his wife of 4 years, ‘(son’s name) ich liebe meinen coolen (son’s name) – ‘I love my cool son’ on day 251; ‘(son’s name) willst du mit mir bald disneys robin hood anschauen’ – ‘Will you watch Disney’s Robin Hood with me’ on day 253; ‘alles von den dino ryders und brax autobahnund alle aufziehautos’ – ‘everything about dino riders, brax and cars’ on day 309;

By day 462, he could even make detailed food requests, asking for curry with potatoes, then bolognese and potato soup the next day.

Never underestimate a TOOL fan.

Spelling interface using intracortical cues in a fully enclosed patient activated via auditory neurofeedback training [Ujwal Chaudhary, Ioannis Vlachos, Jonas B. Zimmermann, Arnau Espinosa, Alessandro Tonin, Andres Jaramillo-Gonzalez, Majid Khalili-Ardali, Helge Topka, Jens Lehmberg, Gerhard M. Friehs, Alain Woodtli, John P. Donoghue & Niels Birbaumer / Nature Communications]

Paralyzed man communicates his first words in months using a brain implant: ‘I want a beer’ [Anthony Cuthbertson / The Independent]