i think, therefore i say

28 Dec

Yes, it’s another invasive procedure, but scientists, led by Frank Guenther at Boston University, have successfully demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. Studies have been conducted implanting an electrode into the brain of a person suffering from locked-in syndrome, a condition where one is aware and awake but physically paralyzed except for the eyes. Using the brain-machine interface, it takes about 50 milliseconds for the thought-to-speech process, which is about the same amount of time for a neurologically healthy individual to speak his or her thoughts aloud.

5 years ago, scientists implanted an electrode near the boundary between the speech-related premotor and primary motor cortex within the frontal lobe of a volunteer’s brain. Neurons began to develop and extend into the electrode, and, in three to four months, these neurites produced signaling patterns on the electrode wires.

The system is “telemetric” in that it requires no wires or connectors passing through the skin, eliminating the risk of infection. Instead, the electrode amplifies and converts neural signals into frequency modulated (FM) radio signals. These signals are wirelessly transmitted across the scalp to two coils, acting as receiving antenna, attached to the volunteer’s head. The implanted electrode is powered by an induction power supply via a power coil, which is also attached to the head – so yes, another breakthrough in future headgear fashion.

The signals are routed to a recording system that digitizes and sorts them. Spikes in signal convey when a neuron fired information and contain the relevant data for this thought-to-speech system.The sorted spikes are sent to a neural decoder which connects to a speech synthesizer. Finally, the speech synthesizer generates synthetic speech in just 50 milliseconds. In time, this system could enable individuals suffering from paralysis to partake in real-time conversation. Pretty damn spiffy.

Speech Synthesizer. Credit: Guenther, et al.

Speech Synthesizer. Credit: Guenther, et al.

One Response to “i think, therefore i say”

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