Monkey writes Shakespeare using new brain-sensing technology

13 Sep 2016

Using newly developed brain-sensing technology, a team at Stanford University trained a monkey to write out a passage from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet at a pace of 12 words per minute.

It turns out you don’t need an infinite number of monkeys to write a piece of Shakespeare, you just need one with brain-sensing technology developed by a team from Stanford University.

Having previously tested technology to help people with paralysis write sentences using brain power alone, the team has now recruited monkeys to develop a faster and more accurate system that can generate 12 words per minute.

Future Human

Monkeys like Hamlet

During the experiments, the technology would directly read the monkey’s brainwaves driving a cursor that would hover above the letter the monkey was trained to use.

So, in this case, the monkey was able to write out the famous phrase: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

This increased rate of reading the subject’s brain is considered a vast improvement on previous tests with human paralysis patients. Previous results showed the process to be slow and rather inaccurate.

To develop this technology, the Stanford team implanted a multi-electrode array directly into the brain of the monkey. The array can then read signals from the region of the brain that typically directs hand and arm movements.

Could be used in smartphones and tablets

From here, it is now a matter of improving the system’s algorithms to improve speed and accuracy to a greater degree than this latest experiment.

“Our results demonstrate that this interface may have great promise for use in people,” said Paul Nuyujukian, who is developing this technology. “It enables a typing rate sufficient for a meaningful conversation.”

Adding that even a rate marginally slower than 12 words per minute would be a major achievement, Nuyujukian said that the technology could eventually be used by smartphones and tablets to improve typing speeds.

“Understand that we’re not using auto-completion here like your smartphone does where it guesses your words for you,” he said.

However,Nuyujukian admits that people with paralysis using the system would likely type slower than these scripted sentences, but the technology is there if they are feeling quite productive.

The team’s research and findings was published in the journal, the Proceedings of IEEE.

Monkeys at computer image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic