Stephen Hawking working on mind-reading machine

Hawking, a theoretical physicist, and colleague Professor Philip Low, will unveil next month a machine that translates brainwaves into words through a computer • Device may not only help those suffering from motor disabilities to communicate, but may also have medical uses such as monitoring patients’ responses to medicine.

Ilan Gattegno, Israel Hayom

Just how beautiful is the mind? A new device called the iBrain, set to be unveiled in a month at Cambridge University, is intended to read world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking’s mind.

Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has been steadily losing his motor function and is currently almost completely paralyzed. The machine is designed to pick up brain waves and communicate them via computer, effectively translating his thoughts into audible speech.

Hawking started developing symptoms of ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the American baseball player who publicly dealt with and died from the disease, in graduate school. ALS effects a person’s ability to control muscle movement. Symptoms include muscle spasms, weakness, muscle atrophy, swallowing issues and difficulty with speech. Most people with ALS do not survive more than a decade after symptoms appear. Stephen Hawking has defied those odds, living with ALS for close to 50 years.

Although debilitating, ALS does not effect brain activity, which has allowed Hawking to write his thought-provoking scientific essays on the expansion of the universe and the nature of black holes. His work in the field of physics has revolutionized the way scientists view the universe; his book “A Brief History of Time” stayed on best-seller lists for over four years. Hawking himself is also personally popular, appearing on television shows such as “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and, recently, “The Big Bang Theory.”

For years, Hawking has used a voice synthesizer, built by Cambridge University, operated through his cheek movements. The new device, named “iBrain” though it’s not an Apple product, acts as a brain scanner. Hawking, who has been working on the machine with fellow Stanford researcher Professor Philip Low, has learned to create brain impulses by imagining that he is moving his limbs, which the machine then picks up. Eventually, the two scientists hope the iBrain will be able to translate more complex thoughts into words, thus constituting a form of “mind reading.”

This type of technology could potentially offer a new way of communication for people suffering from motor disabilities, as well as those who find it difficult to efficiently communicate their thoughts and wishes, such as people with autism.

“This is very exciting for us because it allows us to have a window into the brain,” said Professor Low. “We’re building technology that will allow humanity to have access to the human brain for the first time.”

Low added that the iBrain could also be utilized in other aspects of the medical field, potentially allowing doctors to monitor their patients’ physical progress and response to medication. “This is the first step to personalized medicine.”

June 25, 2012 | 5 Comments »

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5 Comments / 5 Comments

  1. I am afraid that there is a great deal of hype in this article. We are not talking about a mind reading machine but a brain wave pattern recognizing machine that will convert specific brain wave patterns into something else. Similar devices already exist to move wheelchairs, operate computers or even play virtual pingpong. No doubt there are those who are anticipating this technology to advance to the point that it could be used to actually read someones thoughts but for now that is very far away.

  2. @ Ed Katz:

    Katz, I’m with you on Arnold — he’s OK. I can just imagine a “sex crime” trial, using brain waves as “evidence”, convicting men for mentally undressing women they see. Will we end up with more people in prison than out? Who will pay for this nonesense?

  3. Laura,
    Arnold is by no stretch of anyone”s imagination, a leftist. If you have been reading his posts, you would know how right wing he is. Like me, to the right of Attilla the Hun.

  4. The likeliest uses for Steven Hawking’s mind-reading machine, should it in fact be developed, is that it will be deployed by police agencies to painlessly extract unwilling confessions, military forces as weapons of defense and offense, and eventually, by religious courts testing the orthodoxy of their adherents, and by marketers of goods and services. But don’t complain. That’s been the main outcome of much of scientific discovery. It gets put to use for purposes frequently perverse and/or mundane.

    In any case, there goes the very last shred of your privacy, which may not have been worth much to begin with.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI