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
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

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid