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APRIL 2012

VOLUME 189, No.4








The Unspeakable Odyssey Of the Motionless Boy Eric is a young man who is imprisoned In his body. He cant move, cant talk but thanks to new technology his Silence is about to be broken.



VOLUME 189, No.4

APRIL 2012



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APRIL 2012

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VOLUME 189, No.4



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[G]FORCE 101



Swine flu, nuclear tests, global warming— signs of impending doom abound. Should the unthinkable happen, the smart survivalist has two options: flee the planet



The ultraviolet light built into this 32-ounce bottle zaps water borne bacteria, viruses and protozoa in 80 seconds. If you can’t stand still while it’s working, grab the leakproof container and run. A rechargeable battery hides inside the lid.

The latest Leatherman packs bigger, stronger pliers, plus 18 more tools to build your house and skin your dinner. A new locking mechanism causes dull-edged tools to pop out together but knives to stay safely in place until you pull them.





Grid down? Plug in with the solar-powered SN-3 flashlight. While its bright LEDs shine, a universal jack charges your other electronic gear. An hour of sun provides 15 to 40 minutes of gadget use. SunNight Solar BoGo SN-3 $50;

This phone lets you talk even when the cell network fails, because its built-in walkie-talkie can radio similar phones within six miles. A full keyboard makes it easy to search your phonebook for an emergency contact.



AIR Filter out ammonia, chlorine or swirling toxic dust. The Advantage respirator gives a snug fit in seconds, using a harness that tightens two head-straps with a single clip. Its facepiece comes in three sizes to protect all types of people.






The Money Men PICK UP YOUR IPHONE 4S AND ASK IT THIS QUESTION: “SIRI, WHO IS SHAWN CAROLAN?” PROBABLY JUST LIKE YOU, SIRI DOESN’T KNOW WHO CAROLAN IS. Without him, however, the artificial intelligence technology may have never have made its way onto Apple’s latest smartphone. Carolan didn’t develop Siri’s technology, but in 2008 and 2009 he invested millions of his venture capital firm’s money into the start-up that was building the “virtual personal assistant” which recognizes spoken requests for everything from sending a text message to finding a nearby When Apple bought Siri in 2010 for a rumored $200 million, Carolan and the venture capital firm where he

is a managing director, Menlo Ventures, reaped as much as an eightfold return on its investment. Short of an initial public offering, earning a handsome profit and seeing an early-stage investment become embedded in the world’s most beloved smartphone is a Except it’s not just a day’s work. It can take years of sixty-hour workweeks to find a company with the financial upside of a Siri, much less that of a Facebook or Zynga. “You end up kissing a thousand frogs for every investment you end up making,” Carolan says. When you find a prince among the amphibians, though, the financial and professional payoff “Where else can someone say that 90% of our investments will fail, but the 10% that succeed will give you an IRR (internal rate of return) that will be nothing short of dealing in cocaine or loan sharking?,” says Steve Blank, a former technology entrepreneur who now teaches at Stanford University’s business school. “These aren’t bankers, these are gamblers.”

EXCLUSIVE CLUB Venture capital has always been a popular and therefore exclusive club to join, and there are significantly fewer jobs in the industry now than before the financial crisis. The number of principals at venture capital firms dropped 27% from 8,665 in 2007 to 6,328 in 2010, according to data from the National Venture Capital Association, an industry lobbying group. “The industry is contracting; it’s small and getting smaller” because of a lackluster IPO market that has stalled the cycle of profit, return, and reinvestment, said Emily Mendell, vice president of communications for the group. That hasn’t made venture capital lose its allure; getting a job in the industry is just as competitive now as it was when the cycle was rosier.unications for the group. That hasn’t made venture capital lose its allure; gettin


of Tech

Many venture capitalists are graduates of elite M.B.A. programs or graduate-level engineering schools or, increasingly, both. Others are former executives with operational expertise who have led successful start-ups and growth-stage companies, though it’s not unusual for these venture capitalists to also have advanced degrees. executives with operational expertise who have industry is just as competitive now as it was when Large established venture capital partnerships like early Google investor Kleiner Perkins, founded in 1972, are still hiring as are newer firms founded by wealthy, early-retirees who got their start in angel



After 46-year-old Roger Ehrenberg retired from Wall Street in 2004 from 17 years working in derivatives trading at Citibank and Deutsche Bank, he founded a tech start-up and began investing his own money in other people’s start-ups. In 2010, he raised a $50 million fund to focus on data-centric companies like BillGuard and PlaceIQ. When he blogged about hiring one of his first investment employees in 2009, he received 1,000 applications of which 300 were legitimate candidates. He conducted 100 phone interviews, then 10 face-to-face interviews, and then five written examinations, before hiring a Ph.D. in electrical engineering who had served as a technology adviser to Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief of research and strategy. “It’s crazy competitive,” Ehrenberg says of the VC job market. While there is no “typical” path into venture capital, the most common entry-level opportunity is to join a VC firm out of college or from a consulting firm as a research analyst or associate with a salary ranging from $70,000 to $80,000 with bonuses of up to 50-60% of salary, says Tarang Shah, a former venture capitalist at Softbank Capital and author of “Venture Capitalists at Work: How VCs Indentify and Build Billion-Dollar Successes.” Analysts are expected to research and analyze the economics of potential start-up investments for more senior colleagues, while the more prestigious associates concentrate on finding new companies to invest in.


expert in a specific area of technology, whether it is in social networking, online retailing, medical devices or, say, clean technology. Otherwise, discovering the next Twitter, Amazon, Medtronic or LanzaTech isn’t possible.


[G]TEC H101

A True Bionic Limb Remains Far Out of Reach By Michael Chorost On the night of November 1, 2008, Iraqi insurgents lobbed two RKG-3 armor-piercing hand grenades at an up-armored Humvee in Baghdad. The first grenade, a dud, bounced off the passenger-side door. But the second one detonated, sending a jet of molten copper through the door and through the right elbow of Sergeant First Class Glen Lehman. The liquid metal continued across Lehman’s lap, burning his right thigh, and then sluiced across his left forearm. The platoon medic was in the Humvee, too, but he couldn’t extract Lehman through the shattered door. So the medic started treatment in the truck, in the dark, amid a mess of blood and smoke and debris, wriggling around Lehman’s 6’4″ frame. Twenty minutes later Lehman was at a field hospital. Transferred by helicopter to Joint Base Balad, 40 miles north, Lehman received almost seven pints of blood, more than half his body’s volume. Doctors in Germany had to amputate what remained of Lehman’s right arm above the elbow and then transferred him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. The aftermath of all that surgery was excruciating. “Everybody asks, what was it like?” Lehman says. “The best answer I have is that it was like having your hand slammed in a car door continuously.” Usually a veteran like Lehman would get a prosthetic arm, and life, with luck, would go on. But Lehman’s stump was the right shape for an experimental surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation. He was game to try it, in return for access to a remarkable new prosthetic arm. Lehman’s surgeons delicately pulled apart the nerves in his arm that would ordinarily control his elbow and hand and moved them. His distal radial nerve, which controls opening the hand, went to the lateral head of his triceps. His median nerve, which controls closing the hand, went to the medial head of the biceps.

It’s a weird surgery with weird effects; Lehman’s skin ripples when he thinks about moving his missing right arm, a physical reminder of the signals his brain is sending. When he tries to close his hand, his biceps contracts. The rerouted nerves are supposed to improve control of a new prosthesis, one that uses a computer to read the myoelectric impulses that are produced by the tiny neural zaps inside muscles. In short, when Lehman is wearing the new arm, he is a cyborg. But being a cyborg has not turned out the way science fiction promised. At the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, a researcher helps Lehman put on his experimental arm for only the third time. She slides onto his stump a cloth sleeve studded with eight pairs of disk-shaped electrodes that can pick up myoelectric activity. Then she fits the prosthetic arm over the sleeve and anchors it to his body with a sling that wraps around his torso. The arm is a Frankenstein agglomeration of off-the-shelf prosthetic parts—the elbow and forearm come from a company in Massachusetts; the rotating wrist is from Germany; the hand is from China. Total weight: a relatively hefty 4.87 pounds. Lehman uses his left hand to press a button in the crook of the elbow and the arm begins to move through a repertoire of automated movements. It bends at the elbow, then straightens. It bends at the wrist. Then the hand spins in a complete, unnerving circle. Finally, the thumb and forefinger pinch closed, then open again. It looks like robot tai chi. ‹G›





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Erik Ramsey punched out of his after-school job at Arby's at about nine o’clock in the evening on November 5, 1999, and went to see The Sixth Sense with a friend. They were driving home on a two-lane highway in Duluth, Georgia, a suburb about twenty-five miles northeast of Atlanta, when a minivan tried to make a U-turn from the oncoming lane. Erik’s friend was speeding, and they never saw the other vehicle’s headlights. The collision sent the minivan’s engine flying out of its chassis. The car Erik was in, a late-model Camaro, careened into a curb and flipped end over end before landing upside down in a grove of small pine trees. The driver escaped with a chunk of metal embedded in his skull. Firefighters had to use the Jaws of Life to extract Erik. He was sixteen. When Erik’s father, Eddie, arrived at the Gwinnett Medical Center, he found his son lying on a table in

the emergency room, screaming and writhing in pain. His first thought was simply, This is bad. Real bad. Erik’s leg was dangling at a right angle from his torso. His head was perforated like a pincushion with pine straw. His spleen had been lacerated, his diaphragm had ruptured, and his left lung

"My son goes through a living hell every day of his life," had collapsed. He wasn’t yet under anesthesia, so the doctor asked Eddie to help keep his son pinned to the table. Even as he gasped for air, Erik’s six-foot, 180-pound frame managed to rip free from his father’s grasp. For the next three weeks, Erik lay in the intensive-care unit, awake but unresponsive. Once his condition stabilized, a


UDE chip that is inserted just under Erik's scalp. This micro chip receives information from the tiny electrode that is in the shape of needle that is inserted in to Erik's motor cortex lobe of the brain.

of his eyes. Unlike Jean-Dominique Bauby, the locked-in author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Erik couldn’t blink. Even moving his eyes left and right was beyond his capability. However, very soon after the accident, a speech therapist discovered that there remained one peephole in the otherwise impenetrable wall that kept Erik sequestered in his cell of flesh and bones. Because he could still look up and down, he could still say yes and no. “Up for heaven, down for hell,” the That was the first question Eddie asked him, because until then no one was sure. Erik looked down. “So you must be tired of people yelling at you?” He looked up and opened his eyes emphatically. That was nine years ago.

neurologist finally gave Eddie and his wife, Sandra, the diagnosis. A blood clot had formed in a part of their son’s brain stem called the pons, causing a stroke right at the juncture where his body met his mind. Erik was suffering from an extremely rare and permanent condition known as locked-in syndrome. “Bottom line is that he has no control over any of his muscles,” the doctor told them. “He’ll never move and he’ll never speak.” Otherwise, the accident had spared virtually all of Erik’s conscious and unconscious processing systems. His memory, his reason, and his emotions were all intact. He could see and hear and feel--and feel pain--but he would never again have any way of communicating. Eddie walked into Erik’s hospital room and looked at his son. Erik’s eyes were wide open. He stared straight back at his father. The only muscles over which Erik still had any voluntary command were the ones that control the up-and-down movement

The Office of Neural Signals, Inc,. is located in a single-story yellow clapboard building in a professional park in Duluth, only a few miles from the Ramseys’ home. Three engraved patents hang on a wall near the door, including US 7275035 B2, “System and Method for Speech Generation from Brain Activity,” granted September 25, 2007, to Dr. Philip Kennedy, a pioneer in the field of brain-computer interface (BCI) research. On the opposite wall there is a small poster that reads: TODAY: ALS, Brain Stem Stroke, Other Locked-In Patients TOMORROW: Spinal Cord Injured, Cyborgs, Enhancement In the largest room of the dark, cluttered office, tables are stacked with computer monitors and electronics equipment, and a web of cables drapes between dislodged ceiling tiles. In the center of the room, Erik Ramsey is sitting in his wheelchair, wearing a blue sweat suit and slippers, with a bundle of wires coming out the back of his head. He’s staring at a wall onto which Kennedy has projected a matrix of six words: heat, hid, hat, hut, hoot, and hot. They represent each of the major English vowel sounds. Kennedy, tall and stately at sixty, asks Erik to think about making the sound uh-ee. As he does, a green cursor jitters across the wall from hut to heat, and a booming vibrato pours out of the speaker: “uuuhahuuuuhaheeeeeeee.” The sound is coming straight from Erik’s brain. Kennedy is trying to help Erik become the first human being ever to have his thoughts translated directly into speech. In November 2004, Kennedy’s team put Erik into an fMRI scanner and showed him images of animals. While the scanner

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Although different, the two sensory experiences of taste and smell are intimately entwined. They are separate senses with their own receptor organs. However, these two senses act together to allow us to distinguish thousands of different flavors.

monitored Erik’s brain activity, Kennedy asked him to say the name of each animal in his head: “This is a lion. This is an elephant.” The fMRI produced a map guiding them to the precise area of Erik’s brain that was activated when he tried to speak, a region of the premotor cortex that controls movement of the mouth, lips, tongue, and jaw. A few weeks later, neurosurgeons working with Kennedy opened Erik’s skull and threaded a tiny glass cone containing three long, hair-thin Teflon-coated gold wires into exactly that part of his brain. Within a few months, Kennedy had Erik producing short words like dada and mama, but the model he was using to interpret the brain signals was too simple ever to decipher real speech. When Kennedy further analyzed the signals, he discovered that he could detect thirty-two of thirty-nine English phonemes, or basic sound units, in the electrode’s output. In

2006, Frank Guenther, a computational neuroscientist at Boston University, joined the project. An expert in the brain’s speech systems, Guenther helped Kennedy develop a computer decoder that could turn those patterns into a prosthetic voice. “Now, Erik, we’re going to play another sound for you,” says Kennedy. He’s sitting next to Erik, a hand on his forearm. “This time I want you to think about the sound uh-ih.” The computer produces the noise that Erik is supposed to make, then there’s a quick beep. Erik is now in control of the voice coming out of the speaker. He’s sitting perfectly still, but the green cursor leaps from hut to hoot to hat to hit as he tries to steady the vibrating sound with his thoughts. The speaker beeps again. “All right Erik, you almost got it that time,” says Kennedy, whose subtle Irish accent hints at his Limerick childhood. “Let’s try it When Erik thinks about puckering his mouth into an o or stretch-


ing his lips into an e, a unique pattern of neurons fires--even though his body doesn’t respond. It’s like flicking switches that connect to a burned-out bulb. The electrode implant picks up the noisy firing signals of about fifty different neurons, amplifies them, and transmits them across Erik’s skull to two small receivers glued to shaved spots on the crown of his head. Those receivers then feed the signal into a computer, which uses a sophisticated algorithm to compare the pattern of neural firings to a library of patterns Kennedy recorded earlier. It takes about fifty milliseconds for the computer to figure out what Erik is trying to say and translate those thoughts into sound. This is the hardest work Erik does all week, and after three hours he’s fading. Despite the dissolved Provigil capsule that he ingested through his feeding tube at the beginning of the session, his eyes are starting to close. Kennedy promises him that if he can do one more round of testing, he’ll play the Headbangers Ball CD, one of Erik’s favorites. This seems to reenergize him. He tries uh-ih again, and this time guides the cursor precisely from hut to hit. The deep Southern drawl that fills the room is actually a digitized sampling of Eddie’s voice. (Kennedy and Guenther figured it was as close as they’d be able to get to Erik’s own.) Nobody would ever mistake these simple vowel sounds for language, but they’re just the first steps. This fall, a new decoder that Guenther is developing will allow Erik to form consonants as well. The goal: full sentences within five years. Locked-In Syndrome was only identified as a medical condition in the sixties. It can develop in two ways: either gradually, as the result of a degenerative disease like ALS, or suddenly, as the result of a stroke or trauma. No American organization keeps statistics about how many people are locked-in, but there are probably no more than several thousand patients each year in the United States who survive the kind of brainstem stroke that crippled Erik. Almost 90 percent of them die within four months, though a few manage to hang on for years, even decades. Hard as it is to call Erik lucky, he was fortunate that the doctors recognized his condition so quickly. There are stories of people being locked-in for years before anyone notices the fully conscious person hiding inside the paralyzed body. In 1966, a thirty-two-year-old woman named Julia Tavalaro became locked-in after a brain hemorrhage and was sent to Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island, New York, where the staff took to calling her “the vegetable.” It wasn’t until six years later that a family member noticed Tavalaro trying to smile after she heard a dirty joke. She was immediately taught to communicate with eye blinks and became a poet and author. She died in 2003 at the age of sixty-eight, having never spoken for thirty-seven years. After Erik’s accident, he stayed in the hospital for more than a month. At first he had so many visitors that they couldn’t all crowd into his hospital room at once. Eddie remembers one girl in particular with dyed-blue hair who cried and cried when she visited Erik, then never came back. In the hospital, the doctors advised Eddie and Sandra that there was no way the family would be able to provide Erik

LOCKED-IN SYNDROME was only identified as a medical condition in the sixties. It can develop in two ways: either gradually, as the result of a degenerative disease like ALS, or suddenly, as the result of a stroke or trauma. No American organization keeps statistics about how many people are locked-in, but there are probably no more than several thousand patients each year in the United States who survive the kind of brain-stem stroke that crippled Erik. Almost 90 percent of them die within four months, though a few manage to hang on for years, even decades.

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LOCKED-IN SYNDROME was only identified as a medical condition in the sixties. It can develop in two ways: either gradually, as the result of a degenerative disease like ALS, or suddenly, as the result of a stroke or trauma. No American organization keeps statistics about how many people are locked-in, but there are probably no more than several thousand patients each year in the United States who survive the kind of brain-stem stroke that crippled Erik. Almost 90 percent of them die within four months, though a few manage to hang on for years, even decades.

with the 24/7 care he needed at home. They all suggested that the best thing they could do would be to put him in a good nursing home and visit often. That Thanksgiving, November 25, 1999, was the first without Erik. In fact, it was pretty much the first time in the three weeks since the accident that Eddie had been home for any longer than to shower or pick up fresh clothes. It was rainy that day, “dreary and miserable,” Eddie recalls, and when he looked across the table at Erik’s empty chair and down at his plate of instant mashed potatoes, he finally crumpled under the weight of everything he’d been trying to carry. “I just couldn’t handle it anymore, and I hated that I wasn’t strong for my family,” he says. “Somehow, and I can’t explain it, I gained strength from that event and that day. I realized I had to take control of what would be the future for our household.” The family decided that even if it meant reorienting their entire lives around Erik’s care, they weren’t going to stick him in some nursing home. While Erik was still in rehab, friends of the family pitched in to remodel the Ramseys’ twelve-hundredsquare-foot split-level house to accommodate Erik’s wheelchair. They ripped out the flooring of the den, which was to become Erik’s bedroom, and replaced it with linoleum tiles, knowing there’d be lots of mopping. They put a futon in the den for Erik’s younger brother, Matthew, now a Kia mechanic, to sleep on. Someone would always have to be there in case anything were to happen in the middle of the night. In time, the family settled into a schedule. Erik is fed four times a day through a feeding tube that empties directly into his stomach. Almost every meal for the last nine years has consisted of two cans of a soupy brown liquid called Compleat whose main ingredients are ground vegetables and chicken stock. Twice a week, he is given a rectal-suppository laxative to clean his bowels. He urinates through a catheter into a bag that has to be emptied every five to six hours. Twice a day, a vibrating black vest is wrapped around his chest to help clear lung congestion. Every hour, his muscles have to be stretched to prevent uncomfortable cramps, and twice a day he is put through an hour of range-of-motion exercises to keep his muscles from atrophying. Because Erik’s tear ducts no longer function, someone has to remember to put saline drops in his eyes every ninety minutes, lest they begin to feel like sandpaper. And because he has no way of expressing pain or discomfort, all this care must be administered as gingerly as if he were a newborn. When Erik’s fingernails have to be trimmed, Eddie uses When Kennedy began putting brain implants into lab animals in the mid-eighties, many of his colleagues were skeptical. “When I was starting out, it was very hard to persuade people that this would work,” he says, sitting behind a desk in his small office at Neural Signals. “In the beginning, we couldn’t get any funding.” Nothing about the underlying technology Kennedy was using was new--neuroscientists had been wiretapping the brain


since the fifties--but what he was proposing seemed just a little too simple to work. Nobody believed you could get enough useful data out of a single electrode to control even the simplest computer program, much less a prosthetic voice. “I presented at a major neuroscience conference, and nobody could see it except the students,” For all the advances that have been made in brain science in recent decades, scientists are still relatively clueless about what transpires in the neural circuitry of the human cortex, the wrinkled and remarkably homogeneous outer layer of the brain that allows us to plan for the future, do long division, write poetry, and--in Erik’s case-speak through a computer. One of Kennedy’s early insights was that you don’t necessarily have to understand all the intricacies of the brain in order to communicate with it. Even though Kennedy has no way of knowing specifically which fifty neurons are being recorded by Erik’s implant, he knows he’s in the right region of the brain. All the implant has to do is gather enough signals;

the pattern-recognition software takes care of the rest. In 1986, while running a lab at Georgia Tech’s Biomedical Engineering Center, Kennedy implanted his first rat, followed by a monkey six years later. Four years after that, in 1996, he became the first scientist to receive FDA approval to implant a BCI in a locked-in human. The subject, an ALS patient named Marjorie, died just seventy-six days after receiving her implant, but in that short period she learned to control a simple binary switch with her brain. It was enough for her to say yes and no, and sufficient proof of concept for Kennedy to move ahead with a second locked-in ALS patient named Johnnie Ray, who used his implant to control a mouse short period she learned to control a simple binary cursor and spell out short words. At one point Kennedy asked him what it felt like to operate a computer with his After Johnnie Ray, the press began to notice Kennedy’s work, and so did other scientists. In 2004, a company called Cyberkinetics, led by the Brown Universi


Eric maybe here with us phyiscaly due to his everyday pain and frustration sometimes he wishes he would not have survived the accident. Most of the time Eric checks him self out of this world and exapes to his own world where he spends most of his day. Eric dose this to excape this living hell

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