News / Health

Decoding Brainwaves Allows Scientists to Pry into Thoughts

Device that lets people speak their minds could soon be a reality

Scientists predict the first device which allows people to talk with their thoughts could become a reality in five years.
Scientists predict the first device which allows people to talk with their thoughts could become a reality in five years.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Jessica Berman

Scientists have taken the first step toward making it possible to eavesdrop on people's thoughts by successfully decoding brain waves associated with hearing.  

Their eventual goal is to create a prosthetic device that would provide a voice for those who are unable to speak.  

A variety of health conditions can rob people of their ability to speak, including stroke, a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and locked-in syndrome, in which individuals are completely awake and aware of their surroundings but unable to move or communicate with the outside world.



To help these people regain a voice, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, set out to build a device that could translate human thoughts into speech. They have achieved a first step toward that goal by decoding the electrical activity in a region of the brain, called the superior temporal gyrus, that’s stimulated by hearing.

Senior researcher Robert Knight, who heads U.C. Berkeley's neuroscience center, says the experiments involved a group of epilepsy patients who listened quietly to words that were played to them.

Researcher Brian Pasley created a computer program that can recognize individual words in the brainwave patterns by their rhythm - or the spacing of syllables - and by their audio frequencies - the high and low sounds in the words.  

To obtain the sound-stimulated brainwave patterns, Pasley used a device called an electroencephalograph, which measures the electrical firing of the patients’ auditory circuits through electrodes already implanted in the patients' brains when they hear spoken words.

He reproduced those words digitally by feeding the brain wave data into an electronic voice synthesizer.

The next step will be to see whether brainwaves generated not by hearing a word but by just thinking it could also be converted electronically into speech.  

“I think there’s some evidence that in certain cases the same brain areas will activate or turn on when you are imagining sounds or speech as to when you are actually listening," Pasley says. "But still, a lot of work needs to be done to really understand how similar those two processes are or how different.  We just don’t know at this point.”

Pasley’s mentor, Robert Knight, believes it’s only a matter of time before researchers are able to map the brain circuitry involved in conscious speech. He predicts the first device allowing people to talk with their thoughts - literally, to speak their minds - will become a reality in five years.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid