The thoughts we never say out loud belong only to us… but also to MIT’s AlterEgo. This headset, developed by three MIT engineers, has the ability to “hear” an individual’s thoughts, interpret them and even transcribe them onto any screen or communication device.
The production of speech in humans involves the action of a number of complex physiological systems. When words or thoughts to be expressed are generated in the brain, they are encoded as linguistic instances by Broca’s area and the supplementary motor area and then transformed into neuromuscular signals for vocal articulation, i.e., for vocalization itself. All the steps before verbalization form “subvocalization” (the act of “talking to oneself”, so to speak).
AlterEgo is composed of seven electrodes, located around the mouth and jaw, detecting the presence of these neuromuscular signals. Once detected, these signals are transmitted to the headset’s main processor, which contains a dimensional neural network that extracts and processes the syntactic information necessary to classify, organize and interpret the words coming from the subvocalization signals.
The engineers tested their prototype on a few people who trained the software to recognize certain mental commands such as “call”, “answer”, “add”, “divide”, etc. As a result, the headset was able to identify, interpret and respond to subvocalized words with a spectacular 92% accuracy. In addition, bone conduction headphones can be connected to MIT’s AlterEgo so that it responds discreetly. Such a feature could allow two people to talk without ever uttering a single word.
The prototype has a number of advantages. It is non-invasive (no electrodes are implanted in the brain), it is portable and lightweight, and it does not allow for the reading of “compartmentalized thoughts” (i.e. thoughts not intended to be verbalized). The helmet could centralize and control all the home automation of a house as well as the digital devices by allowing, for example, to send SMS, to carry out calculations on a calculator, to switch on the oven, to switch off the lights, etc. Moreover, it would offer a real comfort of life to people having lost the use of speech or vision.
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