back to article Say what?! An AI system can decode brain signals into speech

AI algorithms can help scientists process brain waves and convert them directly into speech, according to new research. "Our voices help connect us to our friends, family and the world around us, which is why losing the power of one's voice due to injury or disease is so devastating,” said Nima Mesgarani, senior author of the …

  1. Caver_Dave
    Big Brother

    There be dragons here!

    There is an awful lot of what I think that I certainly wouldn't say out loud! They will need some clever filtering algorythms.

    1. John Mangan

      Re: There be dragons here!

      My reading of the article was that they were looking at the specific brain signals when somebody is speaking or imagining speaking. From my admittedly limited understanding of brain function I think this would be different from the general and literal 'stream of consciousness' of your internal monologue.

      Anyone else?

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: There be dragons here!

        "Anyone else?"

        My reading of the article was that they can't actually do any of this yet. The OP's concern (and mine) is that if it turns out to be possible to convert "imagined speech" into external output then this might be a nightmarish device in the wrong hands.

        Obviously we, the good guys, need to find out whether this is possible before anyone else, so the research should be pursued with all haste.

        1. teknopaul Silver badge

          Re: There be dragons here!

          "Cant do anything yet" exactly, they can recognise brain waves made by external sounds. Nothing a microphone cant do. I dont grok why they think this is close to anything interesting.

      2. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: There be dragons here!

        Chew gum. This squid (or whatever it is) might be latching on to the same parts of the brain that are involved in subvocalisation. (chewing gum is supposed to help you break that habit while reading).

    2. sum_of_squares

      Re: There be dragons here!

      Mental Van Eck phreaking when?!

      Smart clothing with electrodes might do the job.

      "Please transfer 1 bitcoin to the following number, unless you want you coworkers to know that.."

      Or how about:

      "Hey Alexa can you.."

      "I'm sorry dave but I can't. You just commited thoughtcrime, the cops are on their way. Please raise your hands."

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So we will have "AI" that can convert brain waves to sounds to speech, and still be unable to then understand what it's saying ?

    So not really "AI" at all then. Just more fast, pattern matching. Impressive ? Certainly. Anywhere closer to being able to converse or understand language ?


    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

      Amusingly, you've failed to understand the language in the article.

      Understanding natural speech is not their aim. Converting brain signals to speech is.

      'Intelligence' merely means problem solving, and therefore AI is the commonly accepted term for problem solving by machines, often using techniques that aren't explicitly coded into them by humans. You're confusing it with the concept of Artificial General Intelligence or artificial consciousness.

      You can rail against this reasonable usage all you want, but you're pissing upstream.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Dave126 - Re: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

        Converting to what speech then ? What if my native tongue is not US English ? How can they tell it from the brain signals I'm emitting ? It's like a computer keyboard, you can read electric signals but you still need to know the keyboard mapping table.

        1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: @Dave126 - Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

          then they'll just re-train the AI in each new language they want it to be able to speak.

          the key point is: people unable to speak, being able to speak via this tool, by thinking what they want to say.

  3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Next, the researchers placed electrodes directly onto the brains of five participants undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy to record electrical activity.

    It is to be hoped that the electrodes were part of the treatment for epilepsy, and that it wasn't just "By the way, we wanted to experiment with AI speech, so we implanted an electrode while we had your skull open - hope you don't mind". It's not entirely clear.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      It's alright, there was a clear opt out link showing as a pop up over the surgery consent form and all the patients closed it to agree they wanted both the necessary surgery and the tracking implants.

    2. graeme leggett

      If I've understood correctly, you can't open people up to do these sorts of direct measurement of brain impulses. So you find people who are having their skulls opened for surgery etc and then ask them if you can stick your multimeter probes into their grey matter before the brain surgeon gets going. Obviously routine surgery not emergency surgery (even though such nuerological prodding and poking is not rocket science)

      I heard of this project on the Sceptics Guide to the Universe podcast earlier this week, but a more interesting aspect of brain mapping mentioned in the episode (described by Steve Novella, a neurologist) is the use of "lattice light-sheet microscopy" to map the neurons in a brain.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        nuerological prodding and poking is not rocket science

        I like it, graeme... "brain surgery... it's not exactly rocket science"

        (OK, so I'm misconstruing what you said, but still, I couldn't really resist)

  4. lee harvey osmond

    Oh dear

    It appears we're about to digress into philosophy.

    Is language a prerequisite for self-awareness and thought? Is it possible to think, to have thoughts, without words?

    'Cogito, ergo sum' ... but how do you express that without language? If you could think it without language, would it still be true?

    How, then, is this funky AI system going to transform thoughts into speech, when thoughts don't necessarily correspond to language?

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re: Is language a prerequisite for self-awareness and thought?

      Well if the answer is "no", how would we know ?

    2. Thoguht Silver badge

      Re: Oh dear

      How do you express that without language? As Wittgenstein put it, "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

      I know Wittgenstein has had his detractors over the years (including himself, of course), but I can't fault him on that proposition.

    3. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: Oh dear

      > How, then, is this funky AI system going to transform thoughts into speech, when thoughts don't necessarily correspond to language?

      In THEIR work, 75% of the time, it does.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    here we go

    Stage 1: politicians all over the world cream their pants (cause, like OMG, end of all crime, think of the children, terrorism - GONE FOREVER, peace and prosperity for all (who deserve it). Here's the money, no, wait, we buy you WHOLESALE!

    Stage 2: officially nothing's happening, but furious work conducted in secret all over the world to beat the competition and make mind-reading devices more accurate, less power-consuming (so you can carry them on a trailer... pickup... in a suitcase... mobile... ther,e under your skin, together with the usual ID chip). Also, range-extending capabilities, well, extended (in the meantime, due to global warming, certain lands disappeared, others shrunk, never mind, warm is GOOD!

    Stage 3: UN agrees to ban mind-readers for inter-state meetings, conferences and such (all countries ratify the agreement and promise not to break the rules by doing what they're doing anyway. Everybody keeps their face straight)

    Stage 4. In the meantime

    a) mass-scanning of suspects, aka everybody within the range goes on very nicely thankyou. There's talk of tinfoil running out / being banned for unregistered sales in some countries, including (No Comments)

    b) there are unconfirmed reports of leaked blueprints on the internets, and some videos on youtube on how to spoof the readers (taken down remarkably soon, on account of being "illicit and terrorist-related material", but too late anyway, the videos take the top 50 of the linux torrent downloads.

    Stage 5 more leaks surface, which appear to include the readouts of certain high-ranking public figures, despite such violations already banned under updated anti-terror legislation. Unconfirmed reports mention some readouts being short of content, some vicious rumour of "blank readouts", smearing certain well-respected figures, others, containing "graphic images" - also end up in the top 50 linux torrent downloads.

    Stage 6. I can't be bothered, but I'm sure the future's bright. And the boffins, as always, deserve a Nobel prize (in all areas)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And people ask

    why I abandoned IT and am studying medicine! ^_^

    1. Flakk

      Re: And people ask

      You got tired of being underburdened by student loans?

  7. Eddy Ito

    Pretty soon we'll discover what we've long assumed. The dog is actually laughing at you when he licks your face right after he's licked his arse and the cat thinks you're such a bore although you do manage to come up with food from time to time.

  8. Mage Silver badge

    Misleading in mainstream media

    Reading electrical signals due to simple speech is nothing like reading thoughts. "AI" isn't even needed.

    It might only have use for hearing implants (produce more compatible easier to train signals from audio) than anything else.

    I can't see how this has ANYTHING to do with vocalising speech for those that have lost speech. That requires completely different mechanisms and sensing to the real time capture of electrical brain activity caused by hearing digits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Mage - Re: Misleading in mainstream media

      But this technological advance will be marketed and sold for this precise purpose. Yes, just like a lie detector.

  9. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Er, didn't "House" [M.D.] have this a few years back ?

    A machine that could turn "brain waves" into fuzzy pictures ?

    1. SloppyJesse

      Re: Er, didn't "House" [M.D.] have this a few years back ?

      The Russians developed it in the 80s, even built a fighter jet controlled using it. You had to think in Russian mind.

      'course those pesky Americans didn't like not having the best toys and sent a bloke called Gant who looked remarkably like Clint Eastwood to steal it. All went horribly wrong, the bird was dumped in a lake and the whole debarkle was hushed up.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your right to remain silent will be forefeited.

    "Our voices help connect us to our friends, family and the world around us, which is why losing the power of one's voice due to injury or disease is so devastating,” my leg. What a bunch of f&%$^$#ng hypocrites!

    This is going strait into the arsenal of law enforcement agencies and why not, into the hands of marketing and add peddlers companies who need to be sure you like that advertising clip they were shoving at you. These are going to be the ones who can afford to pay insane amounts of money not a poor person affected by loss of speech.

    This is lie detector 2.0 technology and the stakes are very high. Remember, AI is always right so its verdict can not be overturned.

  11. bombastic bob Silver badge

    Ghost in the Shell

    waiting for my brain augment... [just don't hack my ghost]

  12. Ken Shabby Bronze badge
    Paris Hilton

    Tinfoil hat anyone?

    Not so silly now...

    Paris, because she knows what I am thinking.

  13. croc

    As one that has had a total glossectomy (tongue removal) for cancer treatment, I hope that this works. An iPad is no substitute for speech. Mostly because people, on the whole, are just too damned impatient. Assholes all. (the average rate of speech is 125 words to 150 words per minute... My typing? 25 words per minute on a good day if you don't count typos....)

    However, on the philosophical issues, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or, try this one: I think, therefore I am. And I can still clap with one hand, and a glass is half full or empty depending on how thirsty I am. A glass of beer, on the other hand....

    So go ahead. Make all the jokes you can about this significant research. I have already put myself forward as a guinea pig.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    encrypting the signal

    Time to think about encryption of your own brain signals before it's too late to think about them ;-)

    Time to come up with your own language ;-)

    Time to stop thinking in thoughts, sounds, feelings or images and start thinking in instants, awareness and love.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020