Humans cannot read minds. All they do is judge people by what they say or do. What if the person is Deaf? They can communicate with others through the use of sign language. At other times, paralysis causes some to lose not just their ability to speak but also their ability to type and communicate with their hands. How can such people communicate with others and be understood?
To ensure that no one is left behind in expressing their feelings, scientists have invented a new technology that reads directly from the brain. The brain implants help to translate internal speech into understandable signals. The technology was made for people with paralysis or other ailments that rob them of the ability to talk or type with their fingers.
How the technology works
The device known as Neuroprosthesis uses an electrode to form a confluence with the nervous system. Under this new technology, electrodes are implanted in the brain to detect neural signals associated with words. The patient has to think and watch his thoughts translated into text. The text is then converted into audio by speech-generating computer programs. In other words, the neuroprosthesis records silent speeches directly from the brain and sends out the recorded message.
Sarah Wandelt, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, said the “device predicts internal speech directly, allowing the patient to just focus on saying a word inside their head and transform it into text.”
The spelling approach
The new method of communication was more than just one technology. Another approach was led by Sean Metzger, a neuroscientist at the University of California. The result of their studies was published on November 8.
Under this approach, Pancho, a man that had not spoken a word in the past 15 years, after a car accident led to a stroke, was tried under this new project. Unlike the previous technology, this one is more of a spelling session. It does not read words directly from the brain, instead, it reads and translates what the patient attempts to spell. When this approach was tried, Pancho created simple sentences like, “You have got to be kidding,” and “I do not want that.”
The spelling system allowed Pancho to create about seven words in one minute. Metzger said it was faster than the device previously used for this type of communication, which produced five words per minute.
Hope for Anarthric patients
Anarthria means the loss of the ability to speak or communicate through speech. This does not mean that the patient has completely lost his language skill and cognition. They are still like every other person inside, but the major challenge is getting you to know their thoughts.
Communicating how they feel is almost impossible because family members, friends, and care givers might not be able to understand them no matter what message they want to pass through. After all, there has to be a decoder in communication. Hence, the new technology was designed to ease their communication and improve their quality of life.
A technology that needs improvement
The neuroscientists behind this new technology admitted that the innovation was not perfect. Metzger said there was a need to work on the system that produced only seven words per minute. He said it was too slow when compared to normal human communication.
Additionally, the accuracy of the new technology also needs some touch. Some words it generated were inaccurate hence the need to improve the accuracy to look more like natural communication. The ultimate goal of Metzger and his team is to reach a speed of 150 words per minute. “That’s the speed we’d love to hit one day,” Metzger stated.
Only a few people were used to test these new inventions. Many others are suffering from speech loss with similar but different ailments. The scientists could not guarantee that this system would work for them. They doubt whether the technology can also be a communication tool for people with more complex speech disorders.
The inventors are therefore calling for volunteers that could make themselves available for the studies.
“The field will continue to benefit from the incredible people who enrol in clinical trials as their participation is absolutely vital to the successful translation of these early findings into clinical utility,” Leigh Hochberg, a neuroscientist and neurocritical care physician, who was part of the study stated.
He said the technology is still in its early stage and that in the future, nobody might be having communication issues due to stroke or other neurological conditions.