Phil Kennedy no longer saw any other way to get the data. That was how one day he came to lie blissfully unconscious on an operating table in Belize while a neurosurgeon sawed off the top of his skull.
Last year, Kennedy, a 67-year-old neurologist and inventor, did something unprecedented in the annals of self-experimentation. He paid a surgeon in Central America $25,000 to implant electrodes into his brain in order to establish a connection between his motor cortex and a computer.
Along with a small group of pioneers, Kennedy had in the late 1980s developed “invasive” human brain-computer interfaces—literally wires inside the brain attached to a computer, and he is widely credited as the first to allow a severely paralyzed “locked-in” patient to move a computer cursor using her brain. “The father of cyborgs,” one magazine called him.
Kennedy’s scientific aim has been to build a speech decoder—software that can translate the neuronal signals produced by imagined speech into words coming out of a speech synthesizer. But this work, carried out by his small Georgia company Neural Signals, had stalled, Kennedy says. He could no longer find research subjects, had little funding, and had lost the support of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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