New technology is able to turn a person thoughts into words by analyzing brain signals. Researchers from Columbia University have come up with this new innovative system of turning thoughts to speech.
Researcher Nima Mesgarani said, “Our voices help connect us to our friends, family, and the world around us, which is why losing the power of one’s voice due to injury or disease is so devastating.”
“With today’s study, we have a potential way to restore that power. We’ve shown that, with the right technology, these people’s thoughts could be decoded and understood by any listener,” she continued.
The team started off with a computer algorithm able to produce what sounds like human speech, which the team described to be the same tech used by ‘Amazon Echo and Apple Siri to give verbal responses to our questions’.
Then, the team questioned five epilepsy patients undergoing brain surgery to listen to someone speaking sentences while the researchers looked for neural patterns in the patients’ brain activity. The patterns were then used to train the algorithm, which they named as a ‘vocoder’, for translating brain waves into speech.
For testing the device, the team asked the patients to listen to someone recite the numbers zero through nine while the team recorded their brain signals. They then ran the recordings through the algorithm and had a specially trained neural network analyze and ‘clean up’ the output.
Finally, the researchers asked 11 people to listen to the speech to test it. “We found that people could understand and repeat the sounds about 75% of the time, which is well above and beyond any previous attempts,” Mesgarani said.
The sensitive vocoder and powerful neural networks represented the sounds the patients had originally listened to with surprising accuracy.
For now, the system only translates thoughts as a person listens to speech, but in future the team plans to see if they can replicate the study while having a person speak or think about speaking, where no listening will be involved.
In this scenario, if the wearer thinks ‘I need a glass of water,’ our system could take the brain signals generated by that thought, and turn them into synthesized, verbal speech,” Mesgarani said.
This would be a game changer. It would give anyone who has lost their ability to speak, whether through injury or disease, the renewed chance to connect to the world around them.