Researchers Have Created a Device That Can Hear Your Inner Voice

alterego

MIT researchers have created a wearable device that can read your internal dialogue with 92 percent accuracy. The device allows users to ask questions and remotely control other devices without saying a word.

The device, called AlterEgo, resembles a jawbone hooking around the ear and attaching to the user’s face between the lip and chin. Using a bone conduction system, it can hear and respond to the wearer’s internal voice through electrodes attached to the skin.

Developed by a team at MIT’s Media Lab, the intention of the device is to seamlessly fuse humans and machines, soon allowing access one’s smartphone without having to physically manipulate it. Team leader, Arnav Kapur, described it as an attempt to develop a computing platform as “an internal extension of our own cognition,” and “intelligence augmentation.”

The device seems to be the first major step toward a transhumanist cognitive enhancement as technology increasingly becomes an extension of our bodies.

When we verbalize internally, we trigger subtle neuromuscular signals. AlterEgo can read these signals through electrodes placed on the skin. The device then responds to the wearer through a bone conduction speaker, eliminating the need for earbuds or headphones.

Bone conduction headphones are an existing technology that have gained popularity over the past few years, though the phenomenon is believed to have been discovered as far back as the 1500s.

In a video demonstrating AlterEgo’s capabilities, its designers claim that their goal is to combine humans and computers so that computing, the internet, and AI would weave into one’s personality to create a “second self.”

With just 15 minutes of customizing the device to an individual, AlterEgo can transcribe internal dialogue with 92 percent accuracy – human voice word accuracy is 95 percent on average. Kapur and his colleagues are working on improving the number of words the device can understand, saying eventually it will achieve full conversational capability.

Currently the device is only able to recognize 20 words and can respond to commands pertaining to chess, basic arithmetic, and simple television remote control functions.

But the technology is promising for future use in noisy and silent environments, as well as for people suffering from speech disabilities. The team will continue to develop the technology while also reducing the number of electrodes connected to the skin from seven to four.



Scientists Successfully Create Brain Interface That Improves Memory

Wired glossy robotic organ

Cognitive-boosting prosthetics are quickly becoming a reality as doctors are seeing success with a neural interface that improves memory function by stimulating electrodes implanted in the brain.

This “closed-loop hippocampal neural prosthesis” has moved from testing on rodents, to actual human application with positive results. The device works by sending electrical signals from an apparatus outside the body to electrodes internally connected to the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped part of the brain that plays a major role in memory.

Researchers involved in the program describe their approach as aiming to use patient’s own neural codes for memory through a closed-loop system in which electrical signals are exchanged instantaneously.

Patients using the system showed a 37 percent improvement in short term memory tests. Scientists were even more surprised to find that long-term memory of 30 to 60 minute intervals had also improved by a similar 35 percent.

But these electrical zaps weren’t just random stimulation. Researchers carefully recorded where and when specific regions of the patients’ brains reacted when performing tasks involving the use of memory, and carefully tailored electrical pulses to induce a similar response.

closed-loop hippocampal neural prosthesis

 

The team originally tested their method on brain tissue, before moving on to rodents, and then monkeys. Now, with their success in humans, they will continue to develop the technology in hopes of someday having a fully implantable apparatus to boost cognitive function.

One of the members of the team touted memory as being part and parcel of one’s personality. Our collection of memories in life certainly play an important role in individuality allowing us to recall experiences that shape our lives.

The team hopes this technology could one day help restore memory function to those affected by drugs, disease, and brain injury.

Their success in memory enhancement comes at a time when interest in cognitive boosting technology is piquing. A number of scientists have been working on mapping out the brains’ neurological connections in hope of developing computer-brain interfaces for superhuman neurological function.

Elon Musk is currently invested in a project called Neuralink, a neural mesh laid over the brain, merging AI with human cognition. Musk says the concept would ideally improve the speed of connection between the brain and one’s digital self, focusing particularly on output.

With the recent success of this closed-loop hippocampal prosthesis, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to expect some investment from Silicon Valley in the future.

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