Novel AI-powered platform aims to help ALS patients to communicate

2 tech companies, nonprofit partner to develop true-to-life patient avatars

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

Share this article:

Share article via email
A woman conducts research on a laptop with a pile of books and a pamphlet nearby.

Researchers have unveiled a new AI-powered avatar platform — one making use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology — that aims to help people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to communicate, even when the neurodegenerative disease progresses to the point that speaking and moving become difficult or impossible.

The platform was developed through a collaboration between tech companies Lenovo and DeepBrain AI, as well as the Scott-Morgan Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on assistive technologies.

“This is a fantastic example of the untapped potential of generative AI to empower individuals and build a more inclusive future,” Scott Tease, vice president and general manager of high-performance computing and AI at Lenovo, said in a press release.

The AI-powered platform was revealed at CES 2024, a tech showcase being held Jan. 9-12 in Las Vegas. Andrew Morgan, CEO of the Scott-Morgan Foundation, said the nonprofit’s vision “is built on a commitment to ensuring a universal right to thrive through technology.”

“AI is accelerating work we began years ago, and our brilliant collaborators are helping us completely change the accessibility landscape,” Morgan said. “Collectively, we are lighting a beacon for what’s possible—not just for people with ALS, but for everyone.”

Recommended Reading
A patient talks with a doctor who's seated at a desk and using a computer to take notes.

Canadian initiative to advance AI tech to better diagnose ALS

AI-powered assistive tech platform aims to help those with severe disease

ALS is characterized by the progressive death and degeneration of the nerve cells that control voluntary movement. This eventually leads to paralysis, which can make it hard for people with the condition to communicate.

DeepBrain has been developing AI-based avatars — video portrayals that capture the look and personality of people. As part of an ongoing collaboration with the Scott-Morgan Foundation, Lenovo spearheaded an effort to adapt this technology to help people with ALS and other disease maintain communication abilities even when they can no longer do so with their own bodies.

“Leveraging our expansive solutions portfolio and in-house expertise, we love finding these opportunities to reimagine what’s possible and help solve humanity’s greatest challenges,” Tease said.

Eric Jang, CEO of DeepBrain AI, said his company’s goal is to use AI-powered tech to “enable hyper-realistic avatars for everyone.”

“We are constantly amazed at how our partners and clients think of new ways to use AI-generated video,” Jang said. “Lenovo had the foresight to share their vision on how this technology could be implemented as a component of an assistive technology platform.”

As a proof-of-concept, Erin Taylor — a 24-year-old woman who last year was diagnosed with ALS — underwent full-body video capture at a studio. That was then used to create an avatar for her that offers 96% true-to-life accuracy. The avatar was debuted at CES 2024.

Taylor, who lives in California with her mother, was pursuing a career in botany and forestry when she experienced “a brief series of escalating symptoms” that resulted in her diagnosis.

“Feeling so devastated and lost, we were grateful to the Scott-Morgan Foundation for inviting us to help build something new and shape the future,” Taylor said.

The avatar is incredible, but what matters most to me is that this technology could help change the lives of many more people facing ALS or other diseases — a way of showing how bright the future can still be.

Lenovo also has used AI to help develop predictive typing tech, with the aim of making it easier for people with ALS and other motor-limiting diseases to find the right words when a traditional keyboard or voice-to-speech is no longer an option.

Researchers are working to integrate the predictive system along with the avatar and an eye-tracking keyboard, with the ultimate goal of letting people with conditions such as ALS be seen and heard in the digital space.

“I have no doubt this pioneering proof of concept will one day help shape even more staggering innovations,” Morgan said.

“Our foundation was built on the dream that technology, and AI especially, can break through severe disabilities and ensure a right to create, connect, and live life joyfully. We’re making that happen,” Morgan added.

For Taylor, the project is also about the end goal.

“The avatar is incredible, but what matters most to me is that this technology could help change the lives of many more people facing ALS or other diseases — a way of showing how bright the future can still be,” Taylor said.