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Brain-machine interface enables monkeys to type Shakespeare

Published: 14th September, 2016 at 00:00
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The monkeys reached speeds of 12 words per minute, using only their minds.

Who needs infinite monkeys? Just one (plus some state-of-the-art software) is all you need to reproduce Shakespeare’s works, and it would only take 52 days.


Scientists from Stanford University have got rhesus macaques transcribing passages from Hamlet and the New York Times at speeds of up to 12 words per minute. The finding could provide a way for people with disabilities that mean they're unable to speak to communicate more freely, they say.

The team implanted multi-electrode arrays directly into the brains of the monkeys and trained them to type letters corresponding to an onscreen prompt. The electrodes read signals from the part of the brain which usually controls hand and arm movements, and use them to move a cursor across an on-screen keyboard.

“Our results demonstrate that this interface may have great promise for use in people,” says researcher Paul Nuyujukian. “The interface we tested is exactly what a human would use. It enables a typing rate sufficient for a meaningful conversation.”

Currently, other approaches, such as tracking movements of the eye or facial muscles, are used, but these are often difficult and tiring for people to use, and sometimes aren’t feasible. For example, eye tracking is not possible if the user has drooping eyelids.

The study also showed that an implanted sensor could operate for several years – the monkeys used in the study have had the implants for more than four years and haven’t experienced any negative side effects.

The team is now running a clinical trial to test the technology in humans.

Video: Stanford University


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