Patient with paralysis managed to post a tweet through a brain-computer interface

An amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patient in Australia recently became the first person to post a message on social media using only his thoughts.

Philip O’Keefe, 62, posted a short opening message on December 23, beginning with the classic phrase “Hello world,” on Twitter.

The first tweet published from a brain-computer interface

O’Keefe, like other ALS patients, experienced progressive paralysis, which left him unable to speak earlier this year. In April, he was implanted with a device called SBCI (Stentrode Brain Computer Interface), which is a kind of endovascular brain implant. Shortly after its installation, the patient began to use it to communicate.

By means of the SBCI, its bearer can compose messages thinking about words and actions, just as it happens in the interaction with the keys or the mouse of a computer.

O’Keefe’s historic message was posted on Twitter through the account of Thomas Oxley, CEO of Synchron, the developer of this technology. His initial message was followed by a longer text, detailing how he had come to embrace the new technology. Next, he also indicated that he hopes that his participation in the SBCI program will help pave the way for new types of technology that help people who have difficulties to move or communicate autonomously.

The SBCI implanted in O’Keefe’s brain was installed without opening his skull, using techniques that have been used for several years to treat people with strokes. Instead of the traditional and risky surgeries, the device was inserted through his jugular vein. The small brain implant, measuring only 8mm, was designed to allow people who have lost the ability to speak to communicate using only their thoughts.

The SBCI is wireless and can translate the brain waves it reads into words. In addition to O’Keefe, human clinical trials have been conducted in Australia for over a year. Currently, the device has been implanted in just one more person, but more are planned.

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Lenny Li

I started to play with tech since middle school. Smart phones, laptops and gadgets are all about my life. Besides, I am also a big fan of Star War. May the force be with you!

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