Two publications in the magazine Nature claim that scientists have developed a device that can rapidly translate brain impulses from disabled people into spoken language. Motor neuron disease (MND) patient Pat Bennett, 68, gave the gadget a try and said it could help her keep in touch with the outside world. Implants in her brain transform her ideas into spoken language.
The American scientists want to improve their technique even further. The ultimate goal of creating this technology is to allow people who are unable to talk due to a stroke, brain condition, or paralysis to express themselves verbally in real-time. You nailed it! Ms. Bennett used to ride horses and go for daily jogs before she was diagnosed with a disease in 2012 that damages parts of the brain that control movement and ultimately leads to paralysis.
She can’t move at all now. Her ability to communicate was the first thing to go. A neurosurgeon at Stanford University implanted four tablet-sized sensors into Ms. Bennett’s brain as part of an ongoing investigation. The speech-critical brain areas where these sensors were implanted were also identified. The signals from her brain are processed by an algorithm as she moves her lips, tongue, and jaw to produce sounds that form words.
A co-author of the study, Dr. Frank Willett, said, “This system is trained to know what words should come before other ones, as well as which phonemes make what words.” Four months of training allowed the software to convert Ms. Bennett’s brain activity into words on a screen at a rate of 62 words per minute. In comparison to earlier methods, this is a significant improvement—roughly a threefold increase in speed. The researchers estimate that people speak at a rate of 160 words per minute during normal conversation, but they have not yet created a device that can be used in everyday life.
One out of every 10 words in a vocabulary of 50 had an error, whereas one in four words in Ms. Bennett’s vocabulary of 125,000 had typos. However, Dr. Willett emphasized that this was a significant step forward in enabling persons with paralysis who are unable to talk to communicate quickly again. “This is a tremendous advance.
” What this means, as Ms. Bennett put it, is that “they can perhaps continue to work, maintain friends and family relationships.” “Communications of a Typical Character” Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that a stroke patient named Ann who had lost the use of her limbs was able to converse with the use of a computer avatar that displayed her same facial expressions. After deciphering data from over 250 paper-thin electrodes implanted on the surface of Ann’s brain, the scientists utilized an algorithm to recreate her voice.
The researchers used a tape of Ann’s vows as the basis for their study. The system improved upon past methods of production by having a larger vocabulary, more accuracy, and the ability to produce around 80 words per minute. It’s what allows users to have “much more naturalistic and normal conversations,” according to researcher Sean Metzger, who worked on developing the system. As one researcher put it, “it’s what gives a user the potential to communicate almost as fast as we do and to have much more naturalistic and normal conversations.”
The study’s author, Dr. Edward Chang, was “thrilled” to see the brain interface work in real time. He said that recent progress in artificial intelligence (AI) had been “really key,” and that it was now the government’s intention to look into the feasibility of developing AI as a medical tool. Some people with motor neuron disease (MND) can now record and save their voices before they lose the ability to do so, thanks to modern technology. The next step requires them to use their vision to select the words or characters they wish to speak from a screen. The MND Association, a nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for motor neuron disease, has said it is “excited” about the potential of the new research despite its early stages.