AI, and BMI will help paralyzed patients

We are on the verge of a brain-machine interface revolution

According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are 5.4 million people living with paralysis in the United States. Paralysis is caused by several factors such as spinal cord injuries (car crashes or accidents), stroke, or diseases such as multiple sclerosis or ALS. When it happens, individuals lose motor function in one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling (sensory loss) in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor.

A paraplegic individual is generally paralyzed from the waist down and a quadriplegic or tetraplegic individual from the neck down.

Christopher Reeve, who portrayed Superman in the 1970s and 1980s, became a quadriplegic after falling from a horse and injuring his spinal cord in 1995.

Over the last decades, doctors and scientists tried many treatments (such as epidural stimulations or stem cells) for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury with promising results but we are still far from finding a cure.

One of the most promising research areas for treating paraplegics and quadriplegics is BMI (brain-machine interfaces), in which the paralyzed patient thoughts are read by sensors and sent to a computer. This computer, then, interface with other chips inside or outside the patient's body.

This week, John Hopkins University unveiled a video showing one of their patients moving robotic arms through a BMI. The university says it is the first time a quadriplegic patient uses his thoughts to move two arms at the same time with a very precise motor coordination.

Why should you care about this?

With the advent of artificial intelligence and miniaturized computer chips, we will soon be able to implant chips outside (or inside) our brain so a computer could listen to individual neurons firing and understand their secret language. By decoding how the brain sends signals to our limbs and body, scientists may soon bypass a damaged spinal cord and, once and for all, cure paralysis and give a better quality of life for millions of paraplegics and tetraplegics around the world. My personal guess is that we'll fix most types of paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries in the 2030s.

AI and computer chips will become the main driver of progress for many complex fields such as medicine or biology. From now on, understanding and knowing how to code will be one of the greatest differentiators in most if not all professions.