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According to Singularity Hub (This article and its images were originally posted on Singularity Hub November 28, 2018 at 10:04AM.)
Patient T6 was barely middle-aged when she began losing muscle function.
A talented musician with a love for red lipstick, T6 was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a progressive—and unstoppable—neurodegenerative disorder that eats away at motor neurons that control movement. Speech and swallowing are generally the first to go. In just a few years, T6 was paralyzed and hooked to a ventilator to breathe.
T6’s story may have ended there. Although modern neurotechnologies have given paralyzed patients mind-controlled robotic limbs or even the ability to walk again, brain-machine interfaces haven’t been able to reopen access to a similarly indispensable world: the digital universe that gives us email, Google, YouTube, and all the associated conveniences.
In 2012, T6 made a decision that changed her story: she had a tiny 96-channel microelectrode array implanted into the motor regions of her brain. The implant was barely the size of a fingerprint, but it became the linchpin that hooked up her thoughts and needs with the online world.
This month, in an open-access study published in PLOS One, a team reported the first brain implant system that lets patients use their thoughts to navigate an off-the-shelf Android tablet.
Compared to previous generations, this system doesn’t require training—for example, learning to type on a different, non-QWERTY keyboard—or specialized interface equipment.
With just her thoughts, T6 was able to send emails, chat with other paralyzed patients in the trial, Google random questions, and even shop on Amazon. For the first time since she became paralyzed, T6 regained access to the entire commercially-available Google Play ecosystem and the digital world.
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