A paralysed man unable to even move his eyes can now communicate thanks to a brain implant that allows him to control a keyboard with his mind — and one of his first requests was to listen TOOL album… and beer.
In its final stages, the neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can bring extreme isolation. People lose control of their muscles, and communication may become impossible.
A 36-year-old man with ALS started working with a research team at Germany’s University of Tübingen in 2018 when he could still move his eyes,” according to a report by Science.org. At the time, he expressed his desire to undergo an invasive implantation procedure in order to continue communicating with his family. After his wife and sister consented to the surgery, researchers inserted electrode arrays into the portion of the brain that controls movement.
Over the course of two months, experts monitored brain activity while asking him to simply think about moving various parts of his body.
He was then trained to use thinking about specific movements to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions.
Employing audible tones that the patient could modify, researchers were able to work out a system in which the patient could communicate entire sentences with some level of reliability. Many of the man’s attempts failed, but over the course of a year, he was able to communicate — albeit at a frustratingly slow rate of one character per minute — dozens of thoughts, including, “I love my cool son” and “I would like to listen to the album by TOOL loud.”
Also, on one occasion, the man asked to be given a beer through his feeding tube.