This Brain Implant Turns Thoughts into Speech

Cyber. image provided by pixabay

This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

A revolutionary brain implant invented by a team of neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, and engineers can transform thoughts into speech. This technology will hopefully help people who cannot speak because of neurological conditions be able to communicate once more.

Gregory Cogan, a professor of neurology at Duke University’s School of Medicine and one of the lead researchers in the project, explains: “There are many patients who suffer from debilitating motor disorders, like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or locked-in syndrome, that can impair their ability to speak… But the current tools available to allow them to communicate are generally very slow and cumbersome.”

This new device reportedly consists of a flexible piece of medical-grade plastic the size of a postage stamp packed with 256 minuscule brain sensors. According to Interesting Engineering, the researchers tested it on four patients by temporarily implanting it in patients undergoing brain surgery for treating Parkinson’s disease or removing a tumor, which was challenging since it had to be done in a very short time frame so as not to interfere with the medical operations.

The patients were then asked to repeat certain sounds while the device coordinated the movement of over a hundred muscles that move the lips, tongue, jaw, and larynx. The device also recorded activity from the speech motor cortex of each patient, which the researchers planned to use on an artificial intelligence system that would allow the patients to vocalize the sounds.

The researchers then fed the machine learning algorithm with the neural and speech data acquired, in order to test how well the algorithm could identify the sounds being created just from recordings of brain activity. The sounds were then decoded with an average of 40 percent accuracy, with some sounds achieving up to 84 percent accuracy.

There are currently attempts to develop the same type of recording devices without any cables, with the goal of letting individuals walk around while using them and not be dependent on an electrical outlet.

These innovations could advance our knowledge of the brain and dramatically enhance the quality of life for people suffering from various neurological disorders that result in loss of speech.

Nevertheless, since brain implants require intrusive procedures and can potentially affect brain function, they do present ethical, privacy, and safety concerns. In order to guarantee that this innovation is safe, effective, and ethically tested, researchers and medical experts are working hard and constantly making new adjustments and improvements to their devices.