Scientists Read Brain Waves, Simulate Speech

Brain Impulses

University of California, Berkeley, researchers have successfully decoded electrical impulses in the brain’s temporal lobe to reconstruct spoken words.

The study decoded the words that a person actually heard by capturing brain activity during the listening process.  “To use [the technology] for reconstructing imagined conversations, these principles would have to apply to someone’s internal verbalizations,” said author Brian N. Pasley, a post-doctoral researcher in the center. “There is some evidence that hearing the sound and imagining the sound activate similar areas of the brain. If you can understand the relationship well enough between the brain recordings and sound, you could either synthesize the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device.”

“This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease and can’t speak,” said co-author Robert Knight, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit.”

In addition to the potential for expanding the communication ability of the severely disabled, he noted, the research also “is telling us a lot about how the brain in normal people represents and processes speech sounds.”

Pasley and his colleagues at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, University of Maryland and The Johns Hopkins University report their findings Jan. 31 in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.  To hear the reconstructed words, visit the Berkeley news page:



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