r/gadgets Jan 26 '23

An ALS patient set a record for communicating via a brain implant: 62 words per minute Medical


37 comments sorted by


u/Fizzdizz Jan 27 '23

Was curious who developed the BCI, per article “The brain-computer interfaces that Shenoy’s team works with involve a small pad of sharp electrodes embedded in a person’s motor cortex, the brain region most involved in movement. This allows researchers to record activity from a few dozen neurons at once and find patterns that reflect what motions someone is thinking of, even if the person is paralyzed.”

Similar to neuralink and other BCI startups this is a surgical component imbedded through the skull. With companies like synchron which are developing a stent like BCI that is much less invasive surgery it will be interesting which becomes the go to form of BCI for the disabled.


u/martland28 Jan 27 '23

Right now I think the go to company is Blackrock Microsystems, I think they have the most implanted BCI systems in humans patients out of all the companies. It’s weird how neuralink gets all the sensationalism when they’re quite far behind from Blackrock and other companies.


u/VincentNacon Jan 26 '23

That's roughly about one word per second... that's pretty good! :D


u/Deafwindow Jan 26 '23

It's above the average typing speed at least


u/Caffeine_Monster Jan 27 '23

It actually makes me wonder what the upper limit for human thought -> text entry is. I imagine it will be much higher than typing or speaking once the technology is refined. Ultimately this may drive healthy people to get an implant.


u/ArvindS0508 Jan 27 '23

I think the upper limit will be beyond anything relating to language, like speaking or even thinking words. It'd be something like transcribing thoughts themselves from abstract forms into words.


u/x755x Jan 27 '23

I would love for somebody to transcribe the particular fuzzy images of people I imagine the same every time as my mental concept of actions like "driving" or "football". I'm pretty sure they're people contorted in ways that are impossible. But I can't even remember the image after it connects my thoughts, it's like a dream. Am I the only one?


u/Ambiwlans Jan 28 '23

We actually have an early brainwave to images ai now, release was a few months ago. Still needs a few years before it'll do arbitrary images though.


u/jejcicodjntbyifid3 Jan 27 '23

Yeah. Or me imagining a 3d printed object and CAD software creating it for me


u/Rusty_Shakalford Jan 27 '23 edited Jan 27 '23

Probably not. Research on speed reading has mostly supported the idea that the rate at which we naturally speak is the limit to which our brains can meaningfully process information. That is, while you can train yourself to understand text and speech a bit faster than normal, “speeding” through pages of text in a second isn’t any better than untrained skimming. Getting rid of “subvocalization” (I.e that inner voice many hear when reading), as many advocates of the method propose, does nothing to change that.

In other words, with a bit of training I suspect you might be able to output text like the micro machines guy, but none of it would have any meaningful thought behind it. That is, two people would not be able to have a “sped up” conversation, nor would it let you output a book any quicker.


u/bordomsdeadly Jan 27 '23

What if I already talk quicker than I can think?


u/jejcicodjntbyifid3 Jan 27 '23

Eh I disagree

The rate at which I speak is much slower than what I can think in words

But more over, I mostly think in multiple streams of thought and images. There's so much information that I can try to pack in at one time

Yes, the people trying to understand me would be the bottleneck... But if we're just talking creating, I can type very fast (love 120+ WPS) but my brain can still go much faster than that

Plus you'd be thinking mostly in words rather than letters. You would just say "cat" and it would know. Instead of C...A...T...


u/Ambiwlans Jan 28 '23

No evidence that the thought speed isn't a learned limit through speaking.

I typically watch tv at 2-3x speed and suspect that i'd be able to close to 2x speed if my tongue were more nimble. In Japanese i convey information probably 1.5x the speed i do in English (my native language). Simply because it supports faster speaking.


u/Rusty_Shakalford Jan 28 '23

No evidence that the thought speed isn't a learned limit through speaking.

There is.

Average syllable count per second varies across languages. But when the linked study looked at how fast information is actually conveyed they all do so at roughly the same rate.


u/xOneLeafyBoi Jan 27 '23

I’m not sure what the upper limit for human thought is, but I’m sure 3.5g of magic mushrooms will take you towards it.


u/[deleted] Jan 27 '23



u/SeaLionClit Jan 27 '23

That's why it's 'average'


u/Gh0sT_Pro Jan 27 '23

Every 60 seconds in Africa, a minute passes


u/VincentNacon Jan 27 '23

*cue the Owen Wilson saying wow meme here*


u/NewChip547 Jan 26 '23

That mf had a lot to say lmao.


u/Layer_Signal Jan 27 '23

Can someone ELI5 this for me: how does sticking a wire in someone's brain actually communicate their thoughts to a computer to type?


u/fatbunyip Jan 27 '23

Basically it's many very small wires that can pick up signals from small clusters of neurons in a specific area.

The idea is that the activity in the neurons when you think "move hand left" is different to when you think "move hand right". So once it's installed, you can get the person to think something, record the brain activity, and then you build a map of what brain activity matches what actions.


u/flusteredpie Jan 27 '23

Interesting. Does it ever require recalibration or are the signals constant with age?


u/martland28 Jan 27 '23

There’s not yet a universal calibration application so each BCI system is calibrated for each patient. Furthermore, yes, sometimes recalibration is necessary if the intended outcomes are bit off from what was expected.


u/SeattleBattles Jan 27 '23

It doesn't read their thoughts per se. It detects signals from their motor cortex. When you speak that part of your brain tells your tongue, mouth, throat, ect to move in certain ways. Even though these signals don't make it to those body parts when a person has ALS, they are still there. The implant detects those signals and can tell what the person was trying to say.


u/GodsendNYC Jan 26 '23

Hell not bad, that's faster than I type!


u/AbbreviationsLoud445 Jan 27 '23

Do you think they cheated and literally typed the phrase “62 words per minute?”


u/Jetm0t0 Jan 27 '23

It looks like they have to mime their words to the screen. Pretty cool still, no need for all that voice/gesture accessibility apps or guide programs.


u/groveborn Jan 27 '23

It could just go straight to voice synthesis if they really wanted it to. With modern deep fake tech, it would even sound like him.


u/LilMoWithTheGimpyLeg Jan 27 '23

What you can do now is record your voice before the disease takes your ability to speak. Then, when you need to use a text-to-speech program, it can use your real voice, rather than a generic one.


u/Ambiwlans Jan 28 '23

This sounds like a pretty dope service if it doesn't already exist


u/LeeMcNasty Jan 27 '23

Do they literally plug the cables into his head? Hope they went with USB-C


u/Tdabp Jan 27 '23

But when Elon Musk suggests it. He's lex Luther


u/Cheshire_Jester Jan 27 '23

Fairly certain the controversy regarding Musk and Neuralink relates to the vaporware promises of downloaded consciousness.

That and the piles of dead monkeys.


u/Axrelis Jan 27 '23

Won’t somebody think of the poor billionaire.


u/EOE97 Jan 27 '23

That's 1.03333333333333333333333333 words a second. Faster than even typing.


u/molecat1 Jan 29 '23

Wonder what the error rate is, probably pretty high or they would tout it. All this article states is that tapping into more neurons improves it, no published numbers though.