Fan … Stephen Hawking supports the iBrain project. Photo: Reuters
LA JOLLA, California: Already surrounded by machines that allow him, painstakingly, to communicate, the physicist Stephen Hawking last year donned what looked like a rakish black headband that held a feather-light device the size of a small matchbox.
Called the iBrain, this simple-looking contraption is part of an experiment that aims to allow Professor Hawking - long paralysed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease - to communicate by merely thinking.
The iBrain is part of a new generation of portable neural devices and algorithms intended to monitor and diagnose conditions such as sleep apnoea, depression and autism. Invented by a team led by Philip Low, a 32-year-old neuroscientist, the iBrain is gaining attention as a possible alternative to expensive sleep labs that use rubber and plastic caps riddled with dozens of electrodes and usually require a patient to stay overnight.
''The iBrain can collect data in real time in a person's own bed, or when they're watching TV, or doing just about anything,'' Dr Low, chief executive of the San Diego company NeuroVigil, said.
The device uses a single channel to pick up waves of electrical brain signals, which change with different activities and thoughts, or with the pathologies that accompany brain disorders.
But the raw waves are hard to read because they must pass through the many folds of the brain and then the skull, so they are interpreted with an algorithm that Dr Low first developed for his PhD, earned in 2007 at the University of California, San Diego. The original research, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was done on zebra finches.
Of the Hawking experiment, he said: ''The idea is to see if Stephen can use his mind to create a consistent and repeatable pattern that a computer can translate into, say, a word or letter or a command.''
The researchers travelled to Professor Hawking's offices in Cambridge, England, fitted him with the iBrain and asked him ''to imagine that he was scrunching his right hand into a ball''. ''Of course, he can't actually move his hand, but the motor cortex in his brain can still issue the command and generate electrical waves in his brain,'' Dr Low said.
The algorithm, called SPEARS, was able to discern Professor Hawking's thoughts as signals, which were represented as a series of spikes on a grid.
''We wanted to see if there was any change in the signal,'' Dr Low said. ''And in fact, we did see a change in the signal.''
NeuroVigil plans to repeat the study in large populations of patients with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases.
These preliminary results come as Professor Hawking's ability to communicate diminishes as his disease progresses. The 70-year-old physicist now needs several minutes to generate a simple message. He uses a pair of infrared glasses that picks up twitches in his cheek.
''Dr Low and his company have done some outstanding work in this field,'' Professor Hawking said in a statement. ''I am participating in this project in the hope that I can offer insights and practical advice to NeuroVigil. I wish … most importantly, to offer some future hope to people diagnosed with ALS and other neurodegenerative conditions.''
Scientists not connected with Dr Low say they are excited by the iBrain's potential.
''Philip Low's device is one of the best single-channel brain monitors out there,'' said Ruth O'Hara, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University Medical School. She plans to use the iBrain for autism studies.
NeuroVigil has not said what the device will cost.
''I can't speak to the veracity of his latest data [which has not been published],'' Dr O'Hara said. ''But the preliminary data I have seen is compelling. It could be a significant contribution to the field as a window into brain architecture.''
Dr Low plans to team again with Professor Hawking to present their initial data at a neuroscience meeting in July. NeuroVigil will continue to work with the Hawking team to refine their technology to decipher signals generated by Professor Hawking's thoughts.
''At the moment I think my cheek switch is faster [than the brain-computer interface],'' Professor Hawking said in an email sent by an assistant, ''but should the position change I will try Philip Low's system.''
Much work remains, however, including the integration of Professor Hawking's brain waves with the devices that allow him to communicate. ''Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a mind like Stephen Hawking's be able to communicate even a little bit better?'' Dr Low said.
While the world is going forward, we are going iBackward.
April brings in the worst of a person's character mainly Rais who wants to show his arrogance and power.  Malaysia has ban ballet because of the tights wore by the dancers that can make couple wet themselves in public.  Rais should have been sent to a mental home long ago but because he has no home to go back to, he clings on to his post like a mad dog.
While the best brain leaves this country, we take in trash that nobody wants and give them citizenship.  
To continue to live in this country we need to join in the iMadness and go iBackward to survive.