Researchers Develop A Device That Translates Brain Signals into Speech

The technology could one day restore the voices of people with speech disabilities.

Communicating vocally might be effortless for many, but it is not the case for people suffering from speech disabilities due to neurological impairments. To counter this, researchers at the University of California San Francisco have developed a neurological decoder that translates brain signals resulting from the movement of lips, tongue, jaw, and larynx to audible speech.

This revolutionary system is being designed in Edward Chang’s laboratory and hints towards a possibility to come up with a manufactured version of an individual’s voice. This synthesized voice might be controlled by brain activity in the person’s speech centers.

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If these possibilities actually live up to the experiments and suppositions, this neural decoder could go a long way in helping individuals throughout the world who suffer from speech disability by assisting them in restoring fluent communication.

The all-new neural decoder - a step in the right direction

More often than not, regular individuals worldwide do not have to overthink or take too many efforts to speak. This is because when they wish to speak something, the brain immediately notifies the relevant parts of your body such as your mouth and your lips.

This new technology can, as a result, come as a massive boon to people suffering from speech disabilities as it will not just help them restore their function of effective communication but also teach their brain to form words and sentences comprehensibly.

These experiments are being carried out by Chang and his team, and as observed through several experiments, the nerves inside the brain could actually be trained to send signals to all the vocal organs to function on will.

As shared by Chang, “We are tapping into the parts of the brain that control these movements—we are trying to decode movements, rather than speech directly."

He further shares, “The study that we did was involving people having neurosurgery. We are really not aware of currently available noninvasive technology that could allow you to do this from outside the head. Believe me, if it did exist it would have profound medical applications.”

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The researchers temporarily implanted electrodes in the brains of five patients with epilepsy to record the signals generating from the vocal tract movements as they spoke over 100 sentences aloud. These signals were then fed to a computer model of the human vocal system to generate synthesized speech.

Electrode Array
Source: UCSF

The future prospects of this new technology

Prior to this development, a team of neuroengineers from Columbia University also created a system that could convert a person’s thoughts into recognizable and intelligible speech. This technology could simply monitor a person’s brain activity so that they can hear their own words with as much clarity as possible.

This technology also came as a massive breakthrough as it laid a foundation to help individuals with speech disability such as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) so that they can recover their speech function efficiently.

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It is safe to say that all these technologies are being presented as massive game changers and can be the harbingers of hope and success in the field of neuroscience. Besides, it brings scientists one step further in understanding the mysterious world of the human brain.

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