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Cerebral conversations episode 11 Tech beyond 2024
Tina Wild
November 10, 2021

Episode 11 | Alistair McEwan & Rae Johnston | Tech Beyond 2040

From gamification to AI, speech recognition to virtual reality, technology is making an extraordinary contribution to the lives of those living with disability – and there’s some pretty amazing stuff in store for the future too.

Power up with Alistair McEwan and Rae Johnston as they explore how technology, data and innovation are changing lives and improving outcomes, and the questions these cutting edge creations are raising along the way. How do we best navigate the ethics of AI and make the most of its potential? Could a virtual baby give us new insight and a window to the future? And might soft exoskeletons (think Big Hero 6) become a tool in early intervention?

Professor Alistair McEwan is the Ainsworth Chair of Technology and Innovation at CPA. His research looks at how emerging technology – from bionics and robotics to AI – can contribute to better treatments, interventions and solutions for people living with cerebral palsy and similar conditions. Learn about Alistair’s work here.

A multi-award-winning STEM journalist, broadcaster and proud Wiradjuri woman, Rae Johnston has worked in television, radio, podcasting and digital publishing. She was the first Science and Technology Editor for SBS’s NITV and is the producer and host of top-rated podcasts Queens of the Drone Age, Hear+Beyond and Take It Blak.

Listen to Episode 11 here: 

Learn about Alistair’s work: and the funding received for 18 Ideas Grant .

Learn about Rae’s work: Queens of the Drone Age and Hear+Beyond.

Episode 11 Transcript 

Ben McAlary: We’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we’re recording in Australia. We also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which you’re listening to us today, and we’d like to pay our respects to elders past and present.

Andy McLean: Hello and welcome to cerebral conversations. I’m Andy McLean.

Ben McAlary: and I’m Ben McAlary. Hello. This episode is one for the science and technology geeks and freaks like me. No, and really, anyone who’s curious about the meaning of life and the future of humanity, sounds pretty intense, Andy.

Andy McLean: Yeah, it does sound deep, but I tell you what, our guests make it really entertaining. We’ve got multi award winning STEM journalist and broadcaster Ray Johnston talking with engineering technology expert Professor Alistair McEwan.

Ben McAlary: Yeah, this conversation will get you thinking about a lot of things, including how A.I., virtual reality, robotics and a bunch of other tech could be game changers for people living with cerebral palsy.

Andy McLean: This is really the episode where we peer into the crystal ball to ask what the future holds. And you know what? There’s quite a few reasons to be optimistic, I reckon. So let’s hear what our two technology gurus have to say.

Rae Johnston: So, Alistair, I’d like to start by why you came to work for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance in the first place.

Alistair McEwan: Oh, it’s an interesting story. I’m an electrical engineer, so it’s a strange background to come into this area and I was working on this obscure radio standard. I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere. It’s named after a Viking called Bluetooth, and I thought no one is ever going to use this technology. So

Rae Johnston: I think I may have heard of Bluetooth, but I think I might be using it right now. So that was your PhD? That’s incredible.

Alistair McEwan: in that area. Yeah. At that time, my first son was born and he had some challenges around getting enough nutrition at new birth. And I found out about this whole area where engineers can help out with newborn babies who are struggling due to different problems and cerebral palsy is really, you know, it’s the culmination of a lot of those problems. I think I find it a really interesting area on that side of things.

Rae Johnston: When I think cerebral palsy, I don’t naturally think this is something that engineers can help with. How does that work? What do engineers bring to the table?

Alistair McEwan: Honestly, most engineers run away when they hear about babies who are sick. It’s very difficult. You know, it is a male dominated area, engineering, unfortunately, but biomedical engineering is it’s becoming more balanced, which is great. What we can do is really think about how to make the technology for the clinicians that look after the babies and how really importantly, to pick up the best data. We hear a lot about our data being used by big companies and little babies who are being heavily monitored in a neonatal intensive care unit. Nadia Badawi in a previous episode, she mentioned this that there’s all this data coming out of these monitors. You know, we really need to take advantage of what that’s telling us and help build models to predict which way those babies are going to go if we treat them in different ways.

Rae Johnston: So you’re taking that data. What are you building with that data? Are you building artificial intelligence systems? What’s what’s happening with it?

Alistair McEwan: Yeah, our aim is to build artificial intelligence that has doctors in the loop. So it’s to help clinicians make decisions about what treatment to do, because at the moment, they’ll look at that data. They’ll maybe look one day in the past, but it’s difficult to get a really long picture of what’s going on over a long period of time. So it’s really about giving them kind of that data visualisation. One of our kind of futuristic projects is to develop like a virtual baby that will be able to see how they develop over time into the future and then simulate how changes might change that development. So we could see, you know, if, say, a brain injury which could lead to cerebral palsy would be, you know, the effect would be lessened or in different ways.

Rae Johnston: So that’s incredible. And I can imagine that having applications for your every baby really being able to be given, essentially that’s you’re talking about having an instruction manual for newborns. That’s what every parent would want, right?

Alistair McEwan: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, at the moment there are parents with the children in neo natal intensive care, unfortunately. And you know, if there’s a pandemic going on, they it’s challenging for them to go and visit. I can just imagine we can create systems where maybe the parents can have virtual reality goggles and you know, they’d be saying, you know, how the baby is or even during pregnancy. You know, I was always fascinated about what was going on day to day, week to week. You know, you could really, you know, give people a really like an insight and create a stronger connection to the mothers and fathers and all the family. So that’s my origin story, Rae? I’d be interested in hearing how you got involved in working in STEM.

Rae Johnston: I’ve got a little bit of a convoluted path into STEM, actually. I was always one of those kids that loved science and loved reading. I was I was always a bit of a geek g rowing up, I wear that badge quite proudly, and I actually started off wanting to be an actor. And I was doing a whole bunch of, you know, commercials and theatre and all of those sorts of things. It was it was something that I was really pushed to do by myself after I had my son quite young. I had my son when I was 18 and I had a whole bunch of people around me tell me that was it for me now. You know, you can’t follow your dreams. And I went, well, no, that’s not how it works, because if I’m going to show him, if I’m going to turn around and say to him, you can be anything you want to be, I have to follow my dreams. And I never thought that there would be something that would combine science and performing. But it turns out science communication fits that bill quite nicely. And I went from acting into presenting, and one of my first gigs was for a show reviewing video games. And I just broadened my skillset. From there, I went from covering just gaming to broader technology to everything that exists on the internet into science as well. And I became particularly passionate about the science that we’re doing here in Australia, that it’s, you know, I’m a Wiradjuri woman, I’m Aboriginal woman. And you know, this country, this continent is something that is really important to me. So to be able to see the work that’s being done in the realms of conservation and also bringing technology into that was just a beautiful intersection of my interests. So I am particularly fascinated by advances in technology that help make our lives better. But I would love to hear from you now. We’ve heard in other episodes the importance of early intervention in cerebral palsy, and I’d like to know from you what role you believe technology plays in this space and the advancements over recent years. And also what can we expect in the future? But we’ll start with what role it’s playing now, what’s happening right now?

Alistair McEwan: There are lots of programs and studies about the effect of early intervention, and it’s really been shown to make a huge difference. We know that it makes a big difference in, you know, brain injury when it happens to an adult. So it makes a lot of sense. It would it would make a big difference in babies as they develop and they also and children and of course, children have the benefit that they have that they’re still developing. Their brain is still changing, it’s wiring itself, making those connections. And you mentioned gaming. I think gaming is a big opportunity that we really want to take advantage of. So we’re thinking about how we can build on some of the research that we’re doing and include gamification of the therapies that babies sometimes need to do or parents need to do with their children. People, obviously, you know, they have large families, many kids, and they might have a child with a disability and they feel that they want to spend as much time as they can. And we think we can, w e can support that with technology, you know, as simple as something as a computer game, even a way of controlling whether a video is playing or not, you know, by doing that exercise that you need to do with your muscle. Another one, a big one, is communication. Nearly half the people with cerebral palsy have communication difficulties because it’s a physical disability, so it can affect your voice as well the muscles you used to speak. Many, many people will use different, different technology to communicate, such as eye gaze , you know, those systems are they’re not like using, you know, a nice Apple mobile phone or something like that. They’re quite clunky. Then they’re not designed for a huge group. So making them more fun to use, I think is a really key thing. And to point to something else that Nadia mentioned, we know that some people, even with a high IQ, they have a slower communication speed. So they’re they’re not able to communicate at the rate maybe that we’re communicating right now and we want to use technology to give them that faster communication channel, maybe through a Bluetooth connection as well.

Rae Johnston: Maybe maybe that’s I’m always really interested in how eye gaze technology is being used, that I’ve been familiar with it being used in gaming for quite a few years now. And yet there’s even specific charities set up, like special effect in the UK that t hey build these gaming systems for people who use eye gaze to play and the benefits that they can get from it, from social interaction to problem solving skills, even just escapism is enormous. But we do hear a lot of negativity around games and gaming. There’s a lot of concerns that parents might have putting their children in front of these systems, even in a therapeutic kind of way. What are your thoughts on this and how would you alleviate some of those fears around, you know, the terrors of gamification?

Alistair McEwan: I think that the pandemic we’re having has really taught us a lot about how we should think about this. I mean, it is a that is a question that a ll of our community needs to talk about if you as an engineer, if if I speak, you know, I’ll be very biased to to take the benefits of technology. But I have, you know, I have two two children who are home schooling and spending a lot of time behind the screen. And I can see the changes in behaviour. It’s I don’t think it’s a black and white question because it’s also providing my my my kids play a lot of Minecraft. Playing together in a collaborative way with the friends that they have at school enables them to stay in touch during the lockdown. So there are many, many ways that the gaming is is providing a positive benefit that we, I think we just need to tread carefully.

Rae Johnston: Even the World Health Organisation suggested gaming as something for people to be able to do safely during lockdown, to be able to stay in touch with friends and family. So it does feel like the tide is turning a little. When it comes to how gaming is viewed by people, but I’d love to hear from you about exoskeletons. This is this is something that I have a bit of a fascination about, and I believe that you have a story about a family in Sydney that want their son to try an exoskeleton. Can you tell me about that?

Alistair McEwan: Yes, we’re very excited about that. We this is an example really of Cerebral Palsy Alliance, an amazing organisation. You mentioned before that, you know, we have these scientists in Australia and organisations. Cerebral Palsy Alliance is the oldest organisation in the world in this area and the biggest funder of cerebral palsy research, and we came up with this plan. You know, exoskeletons are around a lot in Japan, in the military. People are interested in them for taking care of older people. You know, as we all get older, I think we’ll probably be finding exoskeletons more and more. But what we wanted to do with Cerebral Palsy Alliance completely differently was to say, how young can we, c an we use an exoskeleton? So can we intervene early in children under two years old and use an exoskeleton so that those children can keep up with their other children their age and meet those milestones as well?

Rae Johnston: When we’re talking about an exoskeleton, can you describe to me what the ones you’re working with look like?

Alistair McEwan: A simple answer would be Big Hero six is what we what we want to get towards, so let’s say with children, we’re talking about soft exoskeletons, so the ones you might have seen are like an electric motor and connected with some metal parts to keep it together and give you a nice, strong, hard exoskeleton that can help you stand up because we’re we’re big at all. But children are so small and soft. People might remember that that their joints are kind of soft as well, so the idea is to use a soft device like a like an air bag in a car or a balloon. Very much like a balloon, actually that that is just placed under their knee. And when they need to stand up, the balloon is filled up with air. And so they’re softly assisted to stand up. And when they want to sit down, they the air leaves the balloon. And so they just as the the balloon deflates , they slowly sit down. And if they fall over, you know, we we really want to get to the stage where this is completely wearable for the for the infants, and they can play and crawl around and stand up and do all the things that infants do rather than being in sort of a robotic like device.

Rae Johnston: That feels like it would make such a difference in their lives.

Alistair McEwan: It should . We know that that if if children at that age can receive lots of intensive physical therapy, as much as possible every day and have access to a physical therapist, they’ll do better. But not everyone can, especially under these circumstances. And normally, you know, people in remote communities and places like that, that’s very difficult. So to have a relatively low cost device that could be made available to anyone, anywhere in the world. This device is actually being made in Hong Kong. You know, it’s an international project and we really want to see it used everywhere it possibly can.

Rae Johnston: I’d love for you to tell me about Aaron. The radio host, you’ve got a story about.

Alistair McEwan: Yes, I met Aaron when he was a university student. I think he was getting into radio then. So someone with some interest that did it like yours, I guess. And so Aaron is living independently now and very interested in smart homes and things like that. So, you know, talking to an assistant that can help do things around the home for him. But one of his issues is his hand mobility and he finds it difficult to use his hand muscles. One question we were asked, we put to him really was what would be something would be better for you to have to kind of have an exoskeleton on your hand or to have an implant in your hand like a cochlear implant. I think the cochlear implants that Nadia mentioned that, you know, you see these videos of children when they have a cochlear implant turned on and

Rae Johnston: Oh, it’s beautiful.And the tear jerking moments of them hearing for the first time. Yeah. So this is this is something that he was deciding between an exoskeleton or a hand implant.

Alistair McEwan: Yes, or surgery, permanent surgery. So that’s another option. People do undergo permanent surgery today to release their muscles, to give them some function back, but that’s a one way street. Whereas, with something like a cochlear implant, there’s technology involved and it hasn’t been proven yet, but you can turn it on and off, or you can turn it up and down in volume. So you could make your muscles less tight or tighter, depending on how you’re feeling that day. So I think this is a huge enabler in cerebral palsy, because we know that the muscles are there, they’re just not being controlled well. So what we need to do is enable the person to send the signal from their brain or talk to Siri to tell their their implants to do this. And then they could turn their muscles on and off, and that could help them walk as well without an exoskeleton.

Rae Johnston: That’s incredible. That’s amazing, I’ve never heard of this before. I’m so glad to be speaking to you and hearing about this. Have we seen this being used widely or in, you know, small groups? Or, where are we at with this? Because this is amazing to me.

Alistair McEwan: Yes, it is. In small groups, there are some challenges to overcome. The technology is similar to a pacemaker or a cochlear implant. And now there are brain implants as well for people with Parkinson’s. Some people might have seen those. Someone you turn on the brain implant and the the tremors in Parkinson’s cease. Yes. And they all work really well because the implant is attached with mine and that doesn’t move around the body because of the bone. Whereas if we put them in a muscle, we have the problem of of them moving around and and our muscles move as well. So that’s some of the things we need to overcome. And we’re making them much smaller, which solves that problem as well.

Rae Johnston: We’ve heard a lot about brain implants recently because their usage is increasing for a whole range of reasons. And I think one of the more mainstream reasons we hear about is is Elon Musk wants to make some money with Neuralink. And that gets a lot of attention. But Neuralink hasn’t even begun clinical trials yet. But we’re, on the other hand, y ou know, we’ve recently seen some promising results come out of clinical trials for brain implants, but it has raised a few ethical questions that I’d love to hear from you about because with the closed loop brain stimulation that can monitor and decode brain activity and then automatically adjust treatment in those little electrical pulses, that that’s what’s being used for epilepsy treatment at the moment. And it’s all based on software algorithms on artificial intelligence and your changing brain activity, which could, in theory, have some unintended effects on a person’s sense of self or potentially their personality. Putting an implant in your brain will it, w ill it change who I am in any significant way? And I’m wondering, how do we weigh up the potential risks versus the benefits when we’re talking about a technology that can, in theory and potentially have such a profound impact on people in both positive and negative ways?

Alistair McEwan: It’s a big, big question. Yeah, we definitely need to have a huge debate in a very large community about this. And I mean, Elon Musk has kind of helped this along by, you know, by strongly going out and saying, Well, it’s now a race against us as humans and artificial intelligence, which is, you know, an interesting view that we don’t know if that is the case. We certainly don’t know, haven’t seen artificial intelligence has it doesn’t have general intelligence yet. You know, those things that we ask it to do.

Rae Johnston: That’s I think one of the important things for listeners to understand is the, you know, the two types of artificial intelligence that we have, you know, one of them being applied artificial intelligence, which we see everywhere every day. It’s your voice assistants. It’s autocorrect. It’s, you know, those basic things that you see artificial intelligence being used for. And that’s because applied artificial intelligence is, to my understanding, and Alistair, you’re the expert. Correct me, if I’m wrong, it is when we train a computer to do one specific task a lot faster than we can do it and hopefully better and more accurately. General artificial intelligence, on the other hand, is where a computer could pick up any task that a human brain could do and just switch from task to task as required and apply learnings from previous tasks to the current task. And that’s just something that computers can’t do at the moment. They don’t have a whole lot of common sense. General artificial intelligence is more something that’s being developed in a lab deep in Google right now. But correct me if I’m wrong, Alastair, or you have another perspective on that.

Alistair McEwan: Well, you know, it’s interesting. You mentioned Google when you were, you were talking about artificial intelligence, learning a new task. And this is one thing we see with with the smart assistants like the Google Assistant or Siri. They’re hopeless with accents, and they’re hopeless with dysarthria speech, which is what a lot of people with cerebral palsy have. But they Google are attacking that they have a project to record stage from from people with dysarthria, and anyone can jump on and join that project. I mean, other companies are doing the same Amazon and Apple and Microsoft. They know that this is, you know, we as we’ve seen with the campaigns around disability recently with the Paralympics, you know, it’s a big opportunity and they it’s great to see that they’re taking advantage of that and everyone will benefit, hopefully.

Rae Johnston: Yeah, Absolutely. Do you have any stories where people’s lives have been impacted in a in a positive way by this kind of speech recognition?

Alistair McEwan: Well, there’s a company Voiceitt that works with Amazon. And yeah, probably the one story I mentioned is about a young man with cerebral palsy who, you know, took the very simple approach. He uses a speech generating device to communicate. So he recorded his speech generating device is sound and taught Alexa to understand that.

Rae Johnston: Oh, perfect, see, I’ve seen people do this when they’ve got really heavy accents, but, you know, Alexa or Siri haven’t been able to understand in the past. So, you know, you say it often from Scottish people, who have deep problems with getting these voice assistants to understand them. So it’s fantastic to see that being used in that sense as well. That’s a great idea. There’s a lot of, you know, well-meaning people and well-meaning people working on programs to assist people with cerebral palsy or with other disabilities who are utilising artificial intelligence and technologies around that. Where have people gotten it wrong, though, because I know that there are some, some bad examples out there?

Alistair McEwan: Certainly one I’ve heard about is where people have taken algorithms and tried to use them in government services, such as disability services that did happen in the US, with the with the disability services budget in some states. You know, it’s kind of something similar to what we saw might be happening here in the NDIS, where things are broken down to a very simple form with basic numbers and thresholds. And in this case, it was the difference between if you’d had a fever or a pressure ulcer in the last three days, you would have kept your disability budget. But there were, t here were people who didn’t. And so they didn’t. They had their budget cut and they were left. Unfortunately, without a carer for some days and unable to do things like just get out of bed or get to the bathroom, you know, it’s really, as you say, well-meaning programs, but we can’t rush in. We need to need keep a person in the loop with the AI.

Rae Johnston: That’s exactly it. And that’s whenever I see issues coming up with artificial intelligence systems that are impacting people in a negative way, i t’s because we have tried to remove that human element. And I think one of my favourite sayings is that artificial intelligence is neither artificial or intelligent. It is made by people and it is made to do one thing very specifically. And we do need a real life person to jump in and be monitoring it and making sure that it’s not making decisions that require a human touch. You know, we can’t teach a computer to have empathy and to understand nuance and to understand how complex human beings are and to be able to provide exceptions to rules. We always need to have that in place. So as exciting and beneficial as I can be and all the good ways we can use it, it’s robots are never going to take our jobs. They’re absolutely not. You can’t convince me of that. No way. Not in not in areas like this.

Alistair McEwan: I think you’re right. I mean, that’s it’s you say I’m finding it hard to teach engineers empathy, and they’re the ones who program, so that’s that’s definitely one of the things we’re trying to do is bring more empathy into it, into how we teach future engineers because it’s it is so important.

Rae Johnston: I think I think that’s another reason why it’s important to have a lot of diversity within the teams that are building these systems as well, so that a lot of different life experiences and perspectives can be embedded into these programs. You know, you only have to look example at examples of systems that have been created and put into place all around the world that have your racial bias or gender bias built in as part of it. It can be as damaging as the facial recognition software in the U.K. that was detecting criminals that weren’t criminals. They just happened to not be the white men that coded the systems so that artificial intelligence couldn’t tell the difference between facial features in anyone who wasn’t a white man. You need that diversity on the team. It’s it’s like the women that don’t get shown job listings because those jobs have never really historically been filled by women. So the historical data that’s being used is biased from the very beginning. But if we have those diverse teams and if we have teams that understand who is going to be using the product and who is going to be benefiting from it, I think there’s a lot of potential for A.I. in this field in particular. I’m really excited by what the future might hold.

Alistair McEwan: I think we need the training data that includes all those diverse examples. So one thing we’re trying to do is include as many people with disabilities in our research and and have ways to for them to include their data in systems like the voice systems or computer vision systems as well.

Rae Johnston: I think so I want to look forward to the future for a moment. I want to imagine that we’re in the year 2040 and we’ve gotten a hold of climate change. That’s not an issue anymore. We’re just focussing on this particular issue. Best case scenario, we’ve solved the climate crisis and we’re just focussing on technology, specifically how it’s transformed the experience of people living with cerebral palsy. What tech in particular do you believe could really be a game changer in the future?

Alistair McEwan: I have to say in response to that question by use using technology, we’ve included people with disabilities in all of our technology and development and research work, and they were probably the key to solving the climate crisis as well, because we’re currently missing out on a lot of the inclusion of a lot of people. I think by the year 2040, we would have had technology in in early life that I talked about before and stem cells that would have helped reduce the rate of cerebral palsy right down towards zero. I can say that with confidence because the work of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance has reduced it by 30 percent already.

Rae Johnston: What kind of period of time was that over?

Alistair McEwan: The last decade?

Rae Johnston: Yeah, wow. And so that’s a huge amount in a short period of time.

Alistair McEwan: Yeah. And just by focussing on what works and communicating that and setting up the infrastructure and guidelines to, you know, to give people the confidence to do to do those things. I think by 2040 really, we’ll have assistive technology similar to how we use our mobile phones and apps, so you’ll be able to choose, you know, even in a hardware sense, what type of technology you’d like to use today and might be different tomorrow. It might look different tomorrow, and you’ll be able to choose that, you’ll be able to dial up or down the amount of assistance that your muscles can provide if you have cerebral palsy. If you prefer, you could wear an exoskeleton or you could have your your robot helper that’s in your house, come and help you, it just depend on your preference that day and people, people with communication difficulties or cognitive difficulties, you’ll be able to communicate with that robot as as fast as as normal, speak speaking speed, probably through a brain implant.

Rae Johnston: So it’s a whole it’s not just one thing, is it, it’s a whole range of technologies really coming together that will work. It’s like having a a smorgasbord of tech to choose from, depending on what your personal preferences and needs are.

Alistair McEwan: And most tech companies are very interested in supporting accessibility and technology. So we really see that with, say, Microsoft. I mean, the CEO of Microsoft has a has a son with cerebral palsy. Windows supports eye gaze . Xbox has an adaptive controller and other companies have come as well, with Nintendo having an adaptive controller as well now. It’s just growing. And the companies, as I mentioned before, as well Apple and Google, Amazon, they’re becoming more and more accessible, accessibility focussed. And of course, they know that by solving this really hard engineering and technology design problem, they make their devices better for everyone to use. And Rae, what would excites you about the year 2040?

Rae Johnston: I’m really excited for a future where technology is more diverse, and we are including all of those people who have been historically excluded from technology. I’m excited to see what it can do. Once everyone is represented accurately and appropriately and technology genuinely is for everyone, everything is going to look so much more different and better when everyone can be involved and have a say about what the future looks like and what technology is being created. It’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait. So we’ve painted this big, optimistic picture of 2040, where we’ve got this whole range of technology for people to be able to choose from in order to make their lives easier and better. What needs to happen right now and in the next few years as well in order to make this happen? What obstacles standing in our way and who do we need to be listening to?

Alistair McEwan: We really need to listen to families with disability, with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. We really need to know what technologies people want. Things change all the time. I think with the COVID pandemic, people’s interest in having telehealth meetings and teleconferencing and gaming, preferences have changed. Acceptability has changed. People’s appetite for things like implants has even changed, so we need to keep listening to them both more and more. We want to do that even in virtual reality. So. Getting people in and scaling that at right across Australia and other countries as well, and in those environments we can we can bring together data from those participants who want to share their data and be part of the research, the speech, their movements, the activity from their brain, their EEG brain signals. All of that data can be really useful and go into some of the machine, artificial intelligence machine learning models that that have been developed with more mainstream populations. So if we augment those models with that, with data from a more diverse population, we’d be able to make technology that helps more people. I think to to get to a right of cerebral palsy of to go down this as far as we have already, we really need to pull together paediatricians, particularly those working in the neonatal intensive care units. They have a lot of data that that is going through their units. And Satya Nadella in his memo in his book about hit refresh about how he turned Microsoft around. He opens that book talking about the data in the neonatal intensive care units not being used. And so we need to bring all that data together.

Rae Johnston: Yeah, it’s been absolutely fascinating chatting with you, Alastair. I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken. But before we go, I I would like to know if there’s anything in particular that you are excited by, what fires you, what lights you up inside when you think about utilising technology to help people?

Alistair McEwan: I think that’s where I started was at heart, I’m an electrical engineer and I see the body as a very kind of electrical organism, so our cells communicate with electrical signals. They also communicate with chemicals and things like that o f course. F or me, like the fundamental problem with something like cerebral palsy is the electrical connection between the brain and the muscles has not developed in a normal way because the brain injury happened before that connection was made down the spinal cord. We are able with the technology we have right now to to replace that or augment that in a way. And we we just really need to take that brave step of doing the trials. There’s a lot of work to do, but we can do it right now, and I think that that really excites me. It can be applied to to many disabilities, stroke, spinal cord injury, people with prosthetic limbs from amputations. So there’s lots of applications of it, but it’s a challenging problem that a lot of engineers have shied away from. I think we need to be brave and soldier on and do it .

Rae Johnston: Beautifully said. Thank you.

Ben McAlary: You’ve been listening to Cerebral Conversations, a podcast produced by Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

Andy McLean: To learn more, check out the show notes to this episode over at conversations.

Ben McAlary: And if you enjoyed the show, please rate or review on your favourite podcast platform.

Andy McLean: And to join the conversation, follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Ben McAlary: Thanks again for listening!

The music for this podcast was kindly supplied by Ocean Alley. Check out the band’s music on Bandcamp or visit

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