Voiceless patient communicates at 62 words per minute thanks to brain chip.

A woman named Pat Bennett, aged 68, who had been unable to communicate due to a condition similar to the one that affected Stephen Hawking, has regained her ability to “speak” after 11 years. Bennett suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord’s motor neurons responsible for voluntary muscle movement, including speech. Stanford University conducted a clinical trial that brought a significant change to her life.

Through the implantation of four tiny sensors, each about the size of a baby aspirin, into her brain, Bennett can now express her thoughts directly onto a computer screen, achieving an impressive typing speed of 62 words per minute. Professor Philip Sabes, co-founder of Neuralink with Elon Musk, referred to this trial as a groundbreaking advancement. He highlighted that the level of performance achieved in the study is highly desirable for individuals who cannot speak and emphasized the demand for this technology.

Bennett underwent 26 sessions, each lasting around four hours, collaborating with an AI algorithm. Together, they trained the algorithm to recognize brain activity patterns corresponding to 39 key speech sounds in English. Bennett practiced conveying approximately 260 to 480 randomly selected sentences during each training session. These sentences were drawn from conversations recorded by a calculator manufacturer in the 1990s. Despite some errors, the algorithm’s speed was noted to be three times faster than previous models, approaching the natural pace of human conversation, around 160 words per minute.

Bennett, who communicated via email, expressed that these initial results validate the concept, and she believes that as technology advances, it will become more accessible to those who are unable to speak. This advancement is particularly impactful for nonverbal individuals, enabling them to stay connected to the larger world. Bennett’s experience with ALS was unique, as her speech was affected early on, contrary to the typical progression that starts with limb difficulties.

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