AI technology could turn thoughts into speech

Forget touchscreens – mind-reading machines are on the way. Researchers at Columbia University have built a system which will turn your thoughts into speech.

The machine monitors your brain activity, then takes what you’re thinking and with the assistance of speech synthesisers and AI , turns it into clear, understandable dialogue.

Besides its potential as means of interfacing with and controlling technology, the system could even be wont to help people that can’t speak to speak .

Previous research has shown that once we speak, listen, or maybe just imagine speaking or listening, distinct patterns of activity are produced by our brains. so as to translate these patterns into speech the researchers, from Columbia University’s Mortimer B Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, used a vocoder – an equivalent technology that’s employed by the Amazon Echo and Apple’s Siri to synthesize speech and answer your voice commands.

To teach the vocoder to interpret brain activity, the researchers worked with a gaggle of epilepsy patients who were already undergoing operation . The patients’ brain activity was recorded as they listened to someone recite the numbers zero through to nine. The signals their brain activity generated were then run through the vocoder, which turned the signals into speech.

The researchers then used neural networks, a kind of AI that mimics the workings of the human brain, to analyse and pack up the sound produced by the vocoder. What they were left with was a robotic-sounding voice that recited the numbers the patients were hearing. About three-quarters of the time the numbers were correct and understandable, which lead author Dr Nima Mesgarani described as being “well above and beyond any previous attempts”.

The research team’s ultimate goal is to coach the vocoder to supply speech supported the brain signals emitted when an individual imagines speaking. That way, within the future they could be ready to produce an implant that translates the wearer’s thoughts into words. Such technology might be life-changing for people living with conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or recovering from a stroke, who have lost their ability to talk .

“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 switch them into synthesised, verbal speech,” said Dr Mesgarani. “This would be a game changer. it might give anyone who has lost their ability to talk , whether through injury or disease, the renewed chance to attach to the planet around them.”

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