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

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest 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.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid