Electronic telepathy breakthrough hailed - Science - News - The Independent

Electronic telepathy breakthrough hailed

 

A first step has been taken towards hearing imagined speech using a form of electronic telepathy, it has been claimed.

Scientists believe in future it may be possible to "decode" the thoughts of brain-damaged patients who cannot speak.

In a study described by one British expert as "remarkable", US researchers were able to reconstruct heard words from brain wave patterns.

A computer program was used to predict what spoken words volunteers had listened to by analysing their brain activity.

Previous research has shown that imagined words activate similar brain areas as words that are actually uttered.

The hope is that imagined words can be uncovered by "reading" the brain waves they produce.

"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 Professor Robert Knight, one of the researchers from the University of California at Berkeley.

"If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit."

However, the study involved the use of electrodes inserted through the skull on to the brains of epileptic patients.

A system sophisticated enough to achieve the same result non-invasively remains a long way off.

Prof Knight acknowledged that the research was at an early stage and controlling movement with brain activity was "relatively simple" compared with reconstructing language. But he added: "This experiment takes that earlier work to a whole new level."

The findings are reported in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology.

Scientists enlisted the help of people undergoing brain surgery to investigate the cause of untreatable epileptic seizures.

To pinpoint where the seizures were being generated, neurosurgeons cut a hole in the skull and placed an array of electrodes on to the surface of the brain.

In the case of 15 seizure patients, brain activity from the temporal lobe was recorded as they listened to five to 10 minutes of conversation.

Two different computational models were devised to match the spoken sounds to patterns of activity from the electrodes.

Patients then heard a single word, and the models were used to predict what it was from the earlier analysis.

The better of the two programmes reproduced a synthesised sound realistic enough for the scientists to guess the original word.

There is evidence that the brain breaks sound down to its component acoustic frequencies, with speech spanning the range from about 1 Hertz (cycles per second) to 8,000 Hertz.

Study leader Dr Brian Pasley, also from Berkeley, said: "We are looking at which cortical sites are increasing activity at particular acoustic frequencies, and from that, we map back to the sound."

He compared the technique to a pianist "hearing" the music a colleague is playing in a sound-proof room simply by looking at the keys.

Dr Pasley added: "This research is based on sounds a person actually hears, but to use this for a prosthetic device, these principles would have to apply to someone who is imagining speech.

"There is some evidence that perception and imagery may be pretty similar in the brain. If you can understand the relationship well enough between the brain recordings and sound, you could either synthesise the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device."

The research builds on previous work on the way animals encode sound in the brain's auditory cortex.

Scientists have used brain recordings to guess the words ferrets were read, even though the animals were unable to understand them.

British expert Professor Jan Schnupp, from Oxford University, said: "This study by Pasley and others is really quite remarkable. Neuroscientists have of course long believed that the brain essentially works by translating aspects of the external world, such as spoken words, into patterns of electrical activity. But proving that this is true by showing that it is possible to translate these activity patterns back into the original sound (or at least a fair approximation of it) is nevertheless a great step forward, and it paves the way to rapid progress toward biomedical applications.

"Some may worry ... that this sort of technology might lead to 'mind-reading' devices which could one day be used to eavesdrop on the privacy of our thoughts. Such worries are unjustified. It is worth remembering that Pasley and colleagues could only get their technique to work because epileptic patients had co-operated closely and willingly with them, and allowed a large array of electrodes to be placed directly on the surface of their brains. No non-invasive brain scanning technique in existence is able to provide the very fine temporal and the spatial resolution needed to make proper mind-reading possible."

PA

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week