iBrain Aims to Read Stephen Hawking's Thoughts
One neuroscientist is looking to tap directly into the brain of the famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Philip Low hopes a device he developed, called the iBrain, will provide Hawking with the ability to communicate in case the day comes when Hawking can't work his current communication system. The same device, a light helmet that doesn't require electrodes, might also diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric and neurological conditions, Time reported.
The iBrain gathers electrical signals the brain produces. Low developed an algorithm to interpret the electrical waves the iBrain picks up, accounting for the distortion that occurs as the waves travel through the folds of the brain and the skull, the New York Times reported. Hawking and Low will present the latest studies on the iBrain at the University of Cambridge this Saturday (July 7), but a few details about iBrain test results have emerged already.
The U.S. Navy sent Low iBrain data on a soldier and Low's analysis said the soldier had traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and was taking an anti-depressant, but did not have depression or schizophrenia. The Navy confirmed that all of Low's findings were true, Time reported. The soldier was taking antidepressants for anxiety. If the device is able to quickly and easily diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, it could catch more of the cases that currently go undiagnosed, Time said.
For Hawking, the iBrain has picked up a signal that is "indicative of conscious intent," Low told Time. He hopes future versions of the iBrain could turn Hawking's brain waves into something Hawking can use to communicate: words, letters or computer commands, Low told the New York Times.
Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and lost his ability to speak 30 years ago. Now, the facial muscles he uses to control his communication device appear to be deteriorating, the Telegraph reported. Hawking and his team are interested in a device they can use in case Hawking's condition progresses. Hawking issued a statement supporting the company Low started for the iBrain, NeuroVigil, the New York Times reported.
A device that harvests and interprets electrical brain activity could have myriad uses, Low told Time. He compared his invention with a telescope that can examine many planets.