'60 Minutes': Brain power Video
'60 Minutes': Brain power Video Transcript
[ Music ] ^M00:00:03
>> Once in awhile we run across a science story that's hard to believe until you see it. That's how we felt about this story when we first saw human beings operating computers, writing e-mails and driving wheelchairs with nothing but their thoughts. Quietly in a number of laboratories an astounding technology is developing that directly connects the human brain to a computer. It's like a sudden leap in human evolution, a leap that could one day help paralyzed people to walk again and amputees to move bionic limbs. As you will see tonight the connection has already been made for a few people and for them it has been life changing. Scott Mackler was a husband, father and successful neuroscientist when he received perhaps the worst news imaginable. At the age of 40 he could run a marathon in three and a half hours, but it was about that time that he discovered he had ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. His brain was losing its connection to virtually every muscle in his body. The near-total paralysis would also stop his lungs. He didn't want to live on a ventilator, so nine years ago he recorded this message for his two sons.
>> I know the future holds lots of love and joy and pride and that life goes on and I'll be watching you along the way and I love you very much and I'll see you.
>> This is Scott Mackler today. His mind is sharp as ever, but his body has failed. Doctors call it "locked in" syndrome. Scott and his wife Lynn learned to communicate with about the only thing he has left, eye movement.
>> He'll look at you for yes.
>> And for no.
>> And for no, he looks away.
>> I see. It's cumbersome.
>> It is.
>> But recently, Scott found a new voice.
>> Can everyone hear the PC? I apologize for the quality of the voice.
>> Scott wrote these words one letter at a time with nothing but his thoughts and the help of what's called a Brain Computer Interface or BCI. He wears a cap that picks up the electrical activity of his brain and allows him to select letters simply by thinking about them. Then the computer turns his sentences into speech.
>> I hate being helpless and when other people put words in my mouth.
>> Well this is a very unusual interview for 60 Minutes. We've done something that we never ever do and that is we've submitted the questions in advance because it takes Scott a little while to put the answers together using the BCI device. Scott, I understand that earlier in the progression of this disease you said that at the point you had to go on a ventilator you didn't wanna go on anymore, but today you are on a ventilator and I'm curious about what changed your mind.
>> Because I can still communicate.
>> It isn't fast. It takes 20 seconds or so to select each letter. Scott told us it took him about an hour to write the answers to our 16 questions. But he writes well enough to continue his research and manage his lab at the University of Pennsylvania where he still goes to work everyday. You use the system even to text your sons for example and I wonder what it would mean to your life today if the system somehow was taken away from you.
>> I couldn't work without BCI.
>> Couldn't work without BCI. What does it meant to your relationship?
>> Well, he's happier. He can communicate with not just us, but with the world, that this gave him his independence, his working intellectual scientist independence back.
>> The system was developed by neuroscientist Dr. Jonathan Wolpaw at New York State's Wadsworth Center.
>> This is basically a standard EEG or brain wave cap.
>> To understand how the BCI works, I asked researcher Theresa Vaughan to hook me up.
>> And you'll see the little white discs scattered around on your head.
>> Those discs are electrodes that pick up the faint electrical activity that brain cells create when they communicate with each other.
>> It's a little cold.
>> Teresa is putting a conductive gel on top of my scalp to help the electrodes pick up the signals.
>> All set?
>> All set. I'm thinking of the letters of a word that only I know. Every time the computer flashes the correct letter on the screen I silently think to myself that's it, that's the one. That feeling of recognition sets off a unique electrical pattern in my brain which the computer picks up. Now this is remarkable. It worked the first time I tried it without a single mistake.
>> Thought. ^M00:05:03 [ Laughing ] ^M00:05:05
>> That is amazing. How about that. How about that. I never would have believed it. You know I can imagine some people watching this interview were thinking to themselves wait a minute they're connecting the brain to a computer. Are we moving in the direction of reading people's thoughts?
>> Yeah, not.
>> Or is this mind control around the corner.
>> Oh no, its not -- it's certainly not mind control and it's different from reading people's thoughts. It's important to realize that this requires the cooperation of the person.
>> As remarkable as this is some scientist believe this technology is limited because putting electrodes on top of the scalp is like listening to a symphony from the street outside the concert hall. So, what would happen if the electrodes were inside the brain? That's what they're doing at the University of Pittsburg implanting electrodes inside the brains of monkeys.
>> This is an array...
>> Andy Schwartz, a neuroscientist at the University implanted this grid of electrodes. It's tiny, but there are 100 sensors, each listening to a different brain cell or neuron. It's like listening to the symphony of the brain, but now sitting in the -- ^M00:06:24
Andrew Schwartz, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, has implanted a grid of electrodes inside a monkey's brain in order to listen to the different brain cells (or neurons) in an attempt to decode the language of the brain.
Using an implanted grid of electrodes inside the brain of monkey, Andrew Schwartz has found a relationship between how fast a neuron fires and the way the monkey moves its hand. Once they can understand the relationship, they can write a set of equations which will decode the monkey's intended hand movement in order to find a way to control a prosthetic device.
Cathy Hutchinson, a woman who has suffered a stroke which left her mentatlly sharp, but paralyzed and unable to speak, is among the first humans to have her brain directly wired to a computer. Three years ago, Cathy volunteered to have the same kind of sensors used on the monkeys, implanted into her motor cortex. By using only her mind, Cathy was able to control the movement of a cursor on the computer screen.
People who are paralyzed because of illness or trauma are getting help with a new technology that connects their brains to a computer. See the full broadcast this Sunday, November 2, on "60 Minutes."
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