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‘Mindwriting’ Software Turns Thoughts into Text

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One less barrier between you and your computer.

I’ve been told I write more eloquently than I speak, which is why I do a lot of my conversing from behind a keyboard. However, I’ve occasionally harbored the fear that I’d lose a lot of my ability to communicate if I were to somehow lose the use of my hands and fingers. There’s speech-to-text, I suppose, but if I could talk as well as I type, it wouldn’t be a problem. I’d need a way to bypass my mouth and hands and get my thoughts right onto the screen. Luckily, some Stanford madmen are working on just that.

Researchers from Stanford University have created a new kind of software that would allow those with paralyzed or otherwise hampered use of their hands to enter text into a computer using nothing but the power of their minds. A volunteer afflicted with full-body paralysis had several tiny electrodes, about the width of a hair, implanted in his brain. With this brain-computer interface, the software was able to parse information from the volunteer’s brain, specifically conscious thoughts about handwriting, and translate it into text appearing on the screen. Not only was the text accurate, it was surprisingly quick, appearing at the rate most people text on a phone.

“This approach allowed a person with paralysis to compose sentences at speeds nearly comparable to those of able-bodied adults of the same age typing on a smartphone,” said Jaimie Henderson, MD, professor of neurosurgery. “The goal is to restore the ability to communicate by text.”

“We’ve learned that the brain retains its ability to prescribe fine movements a full decade after the body has lost its ability to execute those movements,” research scientist Dr. Frank Willett said. “And we’ve learned that complicated intended motions involving changing speeds and curved trajectories, like handwriting, can be interpreted more easily and more rapidly by the artificial-intelligence algorithms we’re using than can simpler intended motions like moving a cursor in a straight path at a steady speed. Alphabetical letters are different from one another, so they’re easier to tell apart.”

Obviously, this would only be for people in extenuating circumstances. I don’t think everyone would get electrodes put in their head just for the fun of it. Unless you’re into that, I suppose.