Scientists have managed to decode fragments of people’s thoughts by translating the brain activity caused by words that they hear.
The research paves the way for future brain implants that could monitor a person’s thoughts and speak words and sentences as they imagine them. Such devices could transform the lives of thousands of people who lose the ability to speak as a result of a stroke or other medical conditions like ALS.
Experiments on 15 patients in the US showed that a computer could decipher their brain activity and play back words they heard, though at times the words were difficult to recognise.
“This is exciting in terms of the basic science of how the brain decodes what we hear,” said Robert Knight, a senior member of the team and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Potentially, the technique could be used to develop an implantable prosthetic device to aid speaking, and for some patients that would be wonderful. The next step is to test whether we can decode a word when a person imagines it. That might sound spooky, but this could really help patients. Perhaps in 10 years it will be as common as grandmother getting a new hip,” Knight said. The study is published in the journal PLoS Biology.
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