Name: Adam Wilson
Affiliation: Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health
Last April, Adam Wilson became the first person to send a telepathic message—on the social-networking site Twitter. “using eeg to send tweet,” he wrote, referring to the electroencephalograph he used to record electrical signals in his brain. Wearing a red skullcap embedded with electrodes wired to a computer, he spelled out his missive by focusing on letters flashing before him on a screen.
Beyond extrasensory tweets, Wilson’s deeper ambition for the technology is to help people who have lost the ability to communicate, whether from a stroke or a spinal-cord injury. He’s now developing powerful brain-machine interfaces that attach electrodes to the cerebral cortex, the wrinkled tissue just beneath the skull, where they pick up stronger brain signals than the EEG technique he used in the Twitter experiment. Partly inspired by his fascination with music—Wilson has played the guitar since the seventh grade—his new system taps a brain region that controls response to auditory stimuli, allowing people with neurological disorders to control a computer cursor simply by thinking about the sound of a cellphone ringing.
His next challenge is to engineer seamless wireless systems that could one day decipher complex thoughts—perhaps well enough to help his idol, physicist Stephen Hawking, whose struggle with muscular dystrophy has left him almost fully paralyzed, open doors or steer his wheelchair with thoughts alone. Says Wilson, “I would love to work with him.” —Melinda Wennersingle page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.