Friday, December 18, 2009

Where Computer Meets Brain

In turns out that our brain is remarkably elegant but not especially efficient or reliable -- in its galaxy of 100 billion neurons, synapses fail to fire 30 percent to 90 percent of the time, which is a startling and dismal statistic. But perhaps even worse is a brain that’s firing on all or most cylinders in a body that can’t respond to the brain’s commands. What do you do for people in those situations?

The University of Michigan Direct Brain Interface (DBI) Project is developing plug-and-play brain-computer interfaces that can operate commercially available assistive technology. The Project is at the cutting edge of wide-spread research that, in the last decade, has moved from speculation to the development of devices that enable neurologically disabled patients to play Pong, Twitter, check email, send text messages, change TV channels, steer wheelchairs and even begin to speak.

The research is fascinating for those who look at it only as science. It's inspiring and thrilling for those who're doing the work. But for those whose disabilities this technology might someday overcome, the work is the essence of hope.