Brain Implant Helps Paralyzed Man Speaks Two Languages

brain implant
Source: IFL Science

A paralyzed man has been able to speak again in both his native Spanish and English thanks to a single brain implant. The brain-computer interface (BCI) could recognise the language he was trying to speak.

The 36-year-old study volunteer suffered a stroke that damaged a portion of the brainstem, leaving him quadriplegic. The brain implant helped him become fluent in English, his second language, at the age of thirty, following his stroke. Moreover, anarthria was also diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist in the patient.

His mental processes were intact, but his vocal tract had barely resisted him. Allowing him to make sounds like grunts and groans but not words. The individual had been conversing with a device that allowed him to form words with little head motions. However, a brainstem implant allegedly significantly enhances this.

The authors wrote,

[T]he extent to which bilingual speech production relies on unique or shared cortical activity across languages has remained unclear,

The implant’s concept is to convert the brain’s activity. It would typically alert the facial and vocal tract muscles when attempting to utter a certain phrase.

Furthermore, the authors hypothesised that learning a second language causes the brain to efficiently transfer all of the speech patterns from your first language onto all of the newly learned languages.

But implanting the hardware is just one part of this. In addition, the software needs to be taught. Their first vocabulary consisted of 51 English words, 50 Spanish words, and three terms that were the same in both languages. For example, Pancho, the man’s nickname. The individual would see words on a screen one at a time during training. Then he would have to try saying each one so the system could figure out how to accurately interpret his brain activity.

Whether the user could actually use the system to hold a conversation utilizing this pre-trained language was the big test following all of this training. The authors said that he was able to change languages at his will.


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