Stephen Hawking's brain to be 'hacked' by scientists

Jun 25, 2012

Renowned physicist is helping to develop the iBrain, a tool that could one day read your mind

SCIENTISTS in California are developing a device to "hack" into the brain of Stephen Hawking and one day "read his mind".
The 70-year-old physicist, who lost the power of speech nearly 30 years ago due to motor neurone disease, is working with scientists at Stanford University to develop the ground-breaking tool called the iBrain.
Hawking currently communicates by what his team in Cambridge has dubbed the "cheek switch". An infrared sensor hanging off his glasses detects changes in light as he twitches his cheek to pick out words from a computer screen, which are then spoken by a voice synthesiser.
However, his facial muscles have deteriorated to the point where he can now only speak one word a minute.
The team at Stanford hope that the iBrain will enable Hawking to communicate just by thinking. "We'd like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain," says Philip Low, a professor at Stanford and inventor of the device.
The ability to read a person's mind would be a medical breakthrough, reports The Daily Telegraph, and could be used to help treat sleep disorders, depression and autism.
The device, which is about the size of a matchbox and is very light so does not weigh down Hawking's head, works by scanning his brain to measure electrical activity and linking it up to a computer.
Hawking has so far learned to create patterns of impulses by imagining moving his hands and limbs. But it is hoped that the technology can be developed to recognise more sophisticated brain activity and turn it into words.
"This is very exciting for us because it allows us to have a window into the brain," said Prof Low. "We're building technology that will allow humanity to have access to the human brain for the first time."
Researchers will unveil their latest results at a conference in Cambridge next month.

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