About the author
Here I am in Sicily. This trip was part of the ComAware project and contributed to our first paper describing BCI-based assessment and communication for people diagnosed with CLIS. I saw the sign for “Corleone” and asked Rossella and Vincenzo (both neurologists, Italians, and co-authors) to stop so I could get this picture. They very kindly indulged me. It started to rain just as I got out of the car for this pic. Well, I know one raincloud that’ll wake up next to its own horse’s head!
Italians have also told me that my effort to pantomine an Italian hand symbol was quite unsuccessful. No need to mention that further.
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ComAware by Brendan ZaChary AllIson
This is my longest BCI-fi story, and by far the most emotional for me. It’s about 70 pages in Final Draft, so it’s only available here as a downloadable .pdf.
The protagonist was an exercise in writing a flawed character. He had to seem sketchy enough that the red herring was believable – that is, detectives and thus readers would think he could be a murderer. He had to also be sufficiently likeable that you’re rooting for him by the end. Look at As Good As It Gets or Game of Thrones – deeply nasty and certainly politically incorrect protagonists abound. The ending to The Lives of Others is great because the protagonist was so twisted and evil in the beginning.
The hospital room (119) is the same room where Jean-Dominique Bauby stayed. He was the locked-in patient in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The New Yorker article mentioned is Reading Minds by Parker, printed in 2003. It describes how a locked-in patient named Elias Musiris asked Professor Niels Birbaumer and colleagues to fly to Brazil with their BCI to help him communicate. The sons disrupted their efforts to avoid being written out of the will. The victim’s initials are identical to the patient in the story. I also spoke with Prof. Birbaumer about that story several times and he provided further details.
The story about the locked in patient telling an impatient critic that life is always beautiful, valuable, and exciting is true. It was published in a book I edited in 2010. I interviewed the scientist who worked with that patient, who included that quote from 3:10 until 3:45.
I worked with two people with locked-in syndrome who inspired two characters in this story. Professor Munson is based on someone I knew when I was working at Jon Wolpaw’s lab in Albany. That patient had late-stage ALS and was driven by love for his family. That lab is mentioned in this story and that group is still active in Albany, largely through the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies (NCAN). Captain Chavez is based on a different patient who I knew about a year later while working at the lab run by Melody Moore Jackson in Atlanta. Jon and Melody are still active in the field and I hope they continue to impact people as strongly and positively as me.
Miss Tibbs is a fictional character in Fawlty Towers. I’m a co-author on US patent 7460903, which is accurately described here, though hyped. Hebb is the last name of a very famous (long deceased) neuroscientist, Donald Hebb.
Chancellor Wolf’s name was based partly on the last name of UCSD’s first female Chancellor, Dr. Fox, and the original Law N Order: SVU Executive Producer, Dick Wolf. Dr. Guglinger and his equipment are based on Drs. Guger and Edlinger, whose company g.tec manufactures the equipment that most BCI labs use. Some of Wayne’s collaborators are based on real people in BCI research.
This is excruciatingly realistic in many different ways. Everything technical and scientific is highly accurate and reflects the best we can do with cutting-edge BCIs today. The preceding section has various real-world connections that inspired the story.
This story overflows with hope. Why, I even still hold out some hope that the story will make it onscreen someday.
Also, “Esperanza” means hope in Spanish.
I wrote an earlier version titled In N Out that I registered with the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) in 2011. I registered this version titled ComAware with WGA in 2021.
I was also the lead author of a funding proposal titled ComAware that the reviewers liked – the proposal turned in to a project. I was the lead scientist on that project for one year. The project was successful and contributed to the mindBEAGLE system and associated research. Moreover, it led to new technologies to use BCIs to help people who have been (mis)diagnosed with coma or other disorders of consciousness (DOC).
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