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Krishna Shenoy: How brain-computer connections could end paralysis

By listening to the chatter among brain cells, an expert in brain-computer interfaces says an era of thought-controlled computers is not far off.

Side view of a tranquil, positive, casual young woman sitting in a wheelchair against a dark gray wall

New research allows a patient with paralysis to “write” their thoughts at some 17 words per minute, setting a new record. | Stocksy/Chris Zielecki

Whether by injury or disease, paralysis has afflicted humans through the ages.

Only now have science and technology converged to a point where scientists can contemplate a day when computers and the human mind can communicate directly to restore a certain degree of independence to people with debilitating spinal injuries and other physical conditions that impede or prevent movement.

Electrical engineer Krishna Shenoy is an expert in such brain-computer interfaces and has built machinery by which humans can control the movement of computer cursors with mere thoughts. Using small chips implanted in the brain itself, Shenoy “listens intelligently” to the electrical “chatter” among a hundred or so of the 100 billion neurons of the brain’s motor cortex and then translates the meaning into language a computer can understand. In this way, Shenoy has allowed a man with paralysis to “write” his thoughts at some 17 words per minute, a record more than double the previous standard.

Work remains, but the future of brain-computer interfaces is on the horizon as Krishna Shenoy tells us on this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everythingpodcast with host Russ Altman. Listen and subscribe here.