Neuroscientists have designed a brain-reading device to hold simple conversations with "locked-in" patients that promises to transform the lives of people who are too disabled to communicate. Details of four patients who were able to communicate using what is being touted as a groundbreaking system were made public this week. From a report on MIT Technology Review: Now researchers in Europe say they've found out the answer after using a brain-computer interface to communicate with four people completely locked in after losing all voluntary movement due to Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In response to the statement "I love to live" three of the four replied yes. They also said yes when asked "Are you happy?" Designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, now at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, the brain-computer interface fits on a person's head like a swimming cap and measures changes in electrical waves emanating from the brain and also blood flow using a technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy. To verify the four could communicate, Birbaumer's team asked patients, over the course of about 10 days of testing, to respond yes or no to statements such as "You were born in Berlin" or "Paris is the capital of Germany" by modulating their thoughts and altering the blood-flow pattern. The answers relayed through the system were consistent about 70 percent of the time, substantially better than chance.
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