AI key to stunning breakthrough that allowed paralyzed man to walk again | Scientific and technical news

Enter the cyborg.

A man, paralyzed in a bicycle accident 10 years ago, is now able to walk again thanks to a wireless digital link between his brain and spinal cord.

The video of Gert-Jan Oskam standing, walking and even climbing stairs is remarkable.

Yes, he is dragging his feet a bit. Yes, his movements are slow.

But he is in control. It is his thoughts, his intention to walk, that turn into action.

It’s liberating for him. Not just because he can move his legs.

He says he can now choose to get out of his wheelchair to have a beer with his friends at the bar. Don’t underestimate the psychological importance of looking people in the eye, at their level.

Learn more about artificial intelligence

The key role of AI

Everything is possible thanks to a brain-computer interface.

Implants resting in the brain, just above the motion control center, feed nerve signals to a computer that uses artificial intelligence to select those that matter and decode intent.

The instructions are then sent wirelessly to a second implant in the spinal cord of his lower back, connecting badly damaged nerves in Mr Oskam’s neck.

A sequence of electrical signals then stimulates the leg muscles in the correct order, so that he can walk.

Artificial intelligence is the key here.

Over a decade ago, I spent time in a lab with American researchers who were trying to decode the brain signals of a feeding monkey with a robotic arm that it controlled with the power of thought.

Hundreds of signals passed through a computer screen – and it was clear that the challenge would be to detect patterns in the data to gauge intent.

The Swiss researchers discovered this by carefully training the computer to detect important signals while Mr Oskam was thinking about a very specific muscle movement.

A man who was paralyzed was able to walk again. Photo: EPFL/CHUV/UNIL and CEA/CHUGA/UGA
A man who was paralyzed was able to walk again.  Photo: EPFL/CHUV/UNIL and CEA/CHUGA/UGA

Transformational technology doesn’t come cheap

Technology has clearly been transformational for a man.

But now it needs to be extended to many more people paralyzed by accidents and, the researchers hope, strokes.

It won’t be cheap, so access will be an issue. Will it be only the wealthy, or those with insurance payments, who will benefit?

But that’s for the future.

The breakthrough itself is amazing. And the implications for people living with paralysis are enormous.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GreenLeaf Tw2sl