Neckband Detects User Thoughts And Translates to Speech [Neural Interface]
I recently came across news of a device that geeked me out. Its a neckband that can detect and analyze neural firings when we think about saying something, and translate them into audible words via speech synthesizer. Beyond the obvious use of bettering the lives of people whoâ€™ve lost their ability to speak, it could enable us to make phonecalls without having to actually talk (as is demonstrated in a video in this article). The creators of the device mention that theyâ€™ll have a product by the end of the year for people with ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrigâ€™s Disease).
In my aforementioned geek-out craze I told my girlfriend about the device, called the Audeo, who immediately identified the problem of the device saying a thought you donâ€™t actually want the other person to hear. Youâ€™re on the phone with your boss when you suddenly hear the device blurt out â€œAre you never going to shut up about those damn TPS Reports!?â€œ.
Good point. But the creators say the device can differentiate between things that youâ€™re thinking, and things that you actually want to say. You have to think about using your voice for the device to pick up on it.
Iâ€™m sure that this ability is a beneficial byproduct of making the device a â€œcollarâ€ around your neck monitoring the nerves that control muscles of the larynx.
Our Headâ€™s Too Messy, Go for the Neck
The device is not a brain interface worn on the head, so it stands to reason that (a) they are monitoring neural activity to the muscles that control speech (larynx/voicebox), and (b) by doing so itâ€™s easier to detect things that you actually want to say, as opposed to what youâ€™re casually thinking.
The larynx is innervated by branches of the vagus nerve on each side. Sensory innervation to the glottis and supraglottis is by the internal branch of the superior laryngeal nerve. The external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve innervates the cricothyroid muscle. Motor innervation to all other muscles of the larynx and sensory innervation to the subglottis is by the recurrent laryngeal nerve.
However, Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ve all been in situations where we are on the verge of saying something, perhaps in an emotionally colored debate, but think twice and eventually say something less aggressive. In such a situation Iâ€™m sure the device could accidentally be triggered. So the user must make sure to be perfectly balanced, one with himself and the universe before using it for important conversations. At least for now.
Writing this I get the idea that this problem could be overcome with AI; natural language processing could detect potentially insulting sentences or harsh language. The user could then be prompted to verify whether he meant to say a particular sentence (whether this would introduce too much lag is another question).
The device, currently able to recognize 150 words, is under development by Ambient Corporation, co-founded by Micahel Callahan who demonstrates the device in the following video at the TI Developer Conferenceâ€™08 by placing a â€œvoiceless phonecallâ€.
For the past few decades, humans have increasingly been extending their intellectual capacity with the use of machines. An example is using mobile devices to retrieve knowledge on the fly â€”
making each device-wielding human more intellectually capable than one 20 years ago. But this a matter of perspective, and many only see future invasive devices as â€œextensions of intelligenceâ€ (e.g. neural-interfaced memory storage device) and everything else as tools.
Modern technology is starting to blur this line between intellectual extensions and tools. The â€œSmartest Person in the Roomâ€ project is one of these: Using the Audeo, a person thinks of a question â€”
the question is consequently sent to a web knowledge-application, the answer found and tunneled back out through the speakers. Question never audibly asked, yet answered. Quite brilliant.
Looking forward to monitoring the developments of this project, feeding my interest in machine interfaces right along Emotivâ€™s Epoc and Neuroskyâ€™s non-invasive neural interfaces.
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