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Paralysis breakthrough is quite astonishing – and AI is the key

Enter the Cyborg.

A man who was paralysed by a cycling accident 10 years ago is now able walk again thanks to a wireless digital connection between his brain and spine .

It is amazing to see Gert-Jan Oskam walking, standing and even climbing the stairs.

He does a little stutter. His movements are indeed slow.


He is in charge. His thoughts and his intention to walk are what is causing him to take action.

He feels liberated. It’s not just because he is able to move his legs.

He said he could now stand up and have a drink with his friends in the bar. Do not underestimate the importance of looking at people directly in the eyes, and on their level.

Artificial Intelligence: More Information

AI: The Key Role

All of this is possible thanks to a brain-computer interface.

The implanted electrodes, located just above the centre of movement control, transmit nerve signals from the brain to a computer, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to select the most important ones and decode their intent.

The instructions are sent wirelessly to the second implant, which is placed in the lower spinal cord. This bridges the severe nerve damage in Mr Oskam’s neck.

The leg muscles are then stimulated in the correct order by a series of electrical signals.

Artificial intelligence is the key.

More than a ten years ago, I spent time in a laboratory with US researchers trying to decode the brain signals of a monkey that was feeding itself using a robotic hand it controlled by thought.

The computer screen was flooded with hundreds of signals. It was obvious that the key to determining the intention would be to detect patterns.

The Swiss researchers cracked it by carefully teaching the computer to pick up the signals that are important while Mr Oskam is thinking about a specific muscle movement.

Image: A paralysed man has been able walk again. Picture: EPFL/CHUV/UNIL, CEA/CHUGA/UGA

Transformational tech doesn’t come cheap

One man’s transformational experience with technology is evident.

Researchers hope that strokes and accidents will also paralyze more people.

Access will be a problem because it won’t be inexpensive. Will only the wealthy or those who have insurance payouts benefit?

But that is for the future.

The breakthrough is itself astonishing. The implications for those living with paralysis is huge.


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