Freedom to speak

Nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye

Mary Shelley

Science works by building knowledge on top of previous findings. A start-up spun out of an academic environment follows that process by design. Whereas scientists gather insights by hard-won experience and clever thinking, the commercial enterprise that follows needs different skill-sets ranging from product management and engineering to finance and marketing, whereas all need their share of hard-won experience and cleverness.

In our case, MindAffect, has been created on top of the elegant insight from Peter Desain that he can recognise (or rather predict) in the brain signal the representation of a specific blinking pattern presented to the eye (and then the visual cortex). This finding allows to link the brain with a computer, and let them interact by presenting specific patterns, whose detection can trigger an action: it creates a simple and reliable Brain Computer Interface (BCI). This opens up new dimensions of interaction between man and machine.

Where imagination has already fuelled many science fiction books and movies, the possibilities that are now being offered are of immediate interest to a small group of patients, who have lost their ability to communicate with their loved ones, or interact with their surroundings. Locked-in patients could profit immediately from a BCI based on Peter’s invention, since it requires no training and can offer interaction of roughly one character per second.

It may seem a dilemma to target a very small user-group and pursue simultaneously the required investments to fuel an AI start-up. However, every long march starts by its first step, and what better first step than to use your novel cutting-edge technology to really help people who cannot gain communicative abilities through other means, while proving the robustness of your solution at the same time.

To quote the most renowned scientist benefiting assistive technology:

Even more important than the freedom of speech, is the freedom to speak

Prof. Hawking

Prof. Hawking has had the benefit of being able to communicate by the detection of muscle movement. For some people a BCI is their last hope to express themselves. We will help them first, before venturing into the wide open spaces created by our nascent understanding of our own brain.