Monday, January 09, 2006

The Power of Thought Controls Computers

By Dr. Dean Edell

New research shows the power of thinking could be enough to control a computer device. It's a discovery that could someday give amputees and those who are paralyzed power over their lives.

He's winning this round of pong, but what's really amazing is how Aaron is playing the game.

Aaron Danforth, epilepsy patient: "I have to think of the word 'move' to get it to move to the right."

That's right. No hands. Aaron's brain controls the cursor. The computer can detect what he's thinking by the intensity and pattern of his brain activity.

Kai Miller, researcher: "It's a junction of computer science and medicine and sort-of human interaction."

Jeffrey Ojemann, M.D., neurosurgeon: "It's remarkable to watch almost as if there's a degree of mind control or something that you only see in science fiction movies."

Dr. Jeffrey Ojemann says this technology could lead to new devices for amputees and people who are paralyzed.

Dr. Ojemann, M.D.: "If somebody has lost control of their arms and legs and can't move them, they might still be able to imagine moving them, and if they still have that same electrical signal, we can turn that into a control of a computer or ultimately a robotic device."

To study the technology, scientists rely on patients with severe epilepsy who are under close watch -- like Aaron. He has electrodes implanted on the surface of his brain, so doctors can monitor his seizures. It's the same wiring the scientists needed to conduct this study and Aaron was happy to take part.

Aaron Danforth: "It's definitely interesting... weird seeing them being able to move just by me thinking of words."

As scientists study how the brain works during thought processing, they hope this video game is just the beginning of the power of mind over matter.

Scientists hope to enroll 50 patients in their study over the next five years. They say the study has far-reaching possibilities for many neurological diseases.

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