Saturday, July 07, 2012

Neuro-Spelling, by Brain Scan

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Neuro-Spelling, by Brain Scan - Ideas Market - WSJ

Posted about 14 hours ago by Innovator_thumb Billy Ethridge to Stroke Revelations
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By Christopher Shea

Current Biology
In a new communication system that makes use of fMRI scanners, letters of the alphabet were linked to specific mental exercises.
Cutting-edge technology is already helping conscious people trapped in non-functioning bodies manipulate robotic arms and computer cursors. But researchers in the Netherlands have just announced a lower-tech approach that, with minimal training—and making use of fMRI scanners that are common in hospitals—lets such patients communicate right away. It involves linking mental activities to the letters of the alphabet.
Depending on the letter they wish to signal, patients performed one of three mental tasks: They mentally traced a simple figure (a star, for example), multiplied numbers, or recited text. By varying when they began these tasks as well as the duration, the participants could "sign" all 26 letters (plus a space).
Software reading the brain-scan data guessed the intended letter correctly, on the first try, more than 80% of the time—and the letter was among the computer's top three suggestions better than 95% of the time. The rate of communication was roughly one minute per letter. Participants responded easily to simple questions, including "What is your hobby?" ("Photography"), as well as follow-ups ("What did you photograph last?" "My home").
Other techniques exist for achieving similar results, including ones that directly read electrical impulses through the scalp, but not all patients can master them, said Bettina Sorger, of the department of cognitive neuroscience, at Maastricht University, a co-author of the paper. Needless to say, successfully sending a message would immediately establish that a paralyzed person retained cognitive functioning (although, importantly, the failure to send one could not be taken as proof of the absence of consciousness).
Source: "A Real-Time fMRI-Based Spelling Device Immediately Enabling Robust Motor-Independent Communication," Bettina Sorger, Joel Reithler, Brigitte Dahmen, and Rainer Goebel, Current Biology (July 24)
Via Scientific American

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