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Science Technology

Computer Program Allows the Blind To "See" With Sound 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the flipper-vision dept.
sciencehabit writes "Scientists have developed an algorithm that converts simple grayscale images into musical soundscapes. Even people blind from birth can use the technology to 'see' their surroundings and navigate around a room. Equally intriguing, the part of the subject's brain responsible for vision was active during these tasks, suggesting our thinking about how the brain works may be wrong. Instead of a 'vision center' of the brain, for example, we may actually have a region that helps us 'see', whether that input comes from sight or sound."
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Computer Program Allows the Blind To "See" With Sound

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  • But can you (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 06, 2014 @09:25PM (#46424947)

    play a mean pinball?

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @09:26PM (#46424951)

    I am not sure if "grayscale" is the most useful information to a blind person. A few years ago I tried on some ultra-sound goggles designed for the blind. The cool thing about it was that, with practice, by listening to the pulses, I could not only tell how close an object was, but also how rigid or dense it was. A pillow would sound very different from a rock. Just by listening, I could "look" at two soda cans on the shelf, and tell which one was empty. Of course, it gave no information about color.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      If you continue past the summary they are teaching patients to interpret color as well (see the video attached to the article).
      • by mindriot (96208)

        Except that video doesn't prove anything of that sort. It merely shows that the participant has learned to recognize specific sound patterns. For all we know from the video, he may have been told the following:

        • First sound pattern playing
        • Interviewer: This is John. He is bald and has black eyes and a goatee.
        • Second sound pattern playing
        • Interviewer: This is Lisa. ...
        • ...

        ...as a result of which, the participant is able to recognize the pattern and recite what he has learned.

        If they wanted to demonstrate tha

        • by mikael (484)

          Vision works in the following. Take a stereoscopic picture. The two images give you depth information. You can use edge detection algorithms to determine what pixels belong together as an object (segmentation) and reconstruct a cardboard cutout view of the world. From each 2D cutout figure, the brain finds the closest matching known 3D object and constructs an internal 3D representation of the scene with information consisting of two things; the object and it's orientation relative to the person (distance,

          • by mindriot (96208)

            Vision works in the following. Take a stereoscopic picture. The two images give you depth information. You can use edge detection algorithms to determine what pixels belong together as an object (segmentation) and reconstruct a cardboard cutout view of the world. From each 2D cutout figure, the brain finds the closest matching known 3D object and constructs an internal 3D representation of the scene with information consisting of two things; the object and it's orientation relative to the person (distance, scale, rotation).

            I get that, I work with 3D point clouds and stereo and RGBD sensors every day.

            Now, you could replace the stereoscopic picture with the sound input. Then brain makes a closest match between the type of sound and known objects. Another method is to place an electrode grid on the tongue and a similar form of vision becomes possible.

            I get that too. That is the idea and the claim, anyway. The point of my post was: The video posted with the ScienceMag article [sciencemag.org] does not prove that this is what happens! The task shown could have been accomplished by memorizing the sounds and the descriptions given by the interviewer. That's still fairly impressive. But from the video, we do not know whether the participant actually does what the authors, and you, say he does

    • by hozozco (856621) on Friday March 07, 2014 @05:39AM (#46426485)
      My Daughter is legally blind. She has rod monochromatism often called achromatopsia (http://www.achromatopsia.info/) and doesn't see any colour (only grey scale). She seems to think greyscale is quite useful. Now obviously colour would also be useful, but greyscale allows you to 'see' most things. In some states in the USA people with achromatopsia can drive using bioptic glasses (http://www.biopticdrivingusa.com/achromatopsia/). Of course the rest of the world sees this and thinks 'only in America'. Anyway, this is interesting if not entirely new. Other students at my daughters school (for the visually impaired) also learn echo location - this is from my daughters school: http://www.abc.net.au/btn/stor... [abc.net.au] :-)
  • Geordi's glasses can't be far behind. Excellent.
  • by jawnah (1022209) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @09:43PM (#46425069)
    I'm glad to see a post that positively promotes development in science. For some reason, our "science" has stagnated lately in my opinion with "scientists" taking hard-line approaches to situations - they are no longer thinking out of the box and force everyone to think in the box or be ostracized and labeled "stupid". I agree that there is more likely a part of the brain that helps us "see". I believe that the data used by that brain center can be different to produce different results: 1) You see with your eyes the events happening in front of you. 2) You see with your mind when you recall a sequence of events, situation, or even dream.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by narcc (412956)

      It's not science or scientists so much as it is the thundering hoard of scientifically illiterate science cheerleaders -- the self-appointed elite defenders of "science".

      They're worse than creationists.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Who says science has stagnated? I look around and I'm seeing rapid advances in science and technology and it's just getting more rapid. The only thing stagnating is people's ability to keep up and comprehend what's really happening.
  • 'Visual' cortex is just a bunch of pattern processors. This becomes obvious to anybody who repurposes them to do math.
  • I think wearing laser range finders around, and having pressure around your body depending on how close it is to objects could be more information too. I could be wrong, but I would like some feedback on this reddit post [reddit.com] I made a day or two ago. Can't hurt to discuss this stuff.
  • Somewhat old news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I have a friend who is working on his PHD in experimental psychology at the moment, and we had a discussion about this 4 or so years ago. Apparently this is the new paradigm of thinking in the neuroscience world, or has been on the verge of becoming the new paradigm for some time now. The brain is just a pattern recognition engine, in much the same way that we are able to wire a monkeys brain to a robotic arm, and over time have that brain adapt to control this new appendage, the brain will take any signa

  • science, believe it or not, involves just a little faith that it might, just might, work.
  • by Khashishi (775369) on Thursday March 06, 2014 @11:01PM (#46425431) Journal

    I saw an episode of a documentary/show Extraordinary People on Ben Underwood, and it was incredible what he was capable of, including riding a bicycle and playing basketball using echolocation. This is without any computer program or aid. Unfortunately, he died in 2009. As far as I know, only a few people possess this skill, but it can apparently be taught. The world expert is probably Daniel Kish.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

    • There are people who can echolocate

      Anyone else read that as e-chocolate?

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        There are people who can echolocate

        Anyone else read that as e-chocolate?

        No, because "chocolate" is a color, not greyscale (you insensitive clod).

  • Except It Doesn't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Baby Duck (176251) on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:50AM (#46425743) Homepage
    This does not change how we think of the brain. We've know for decades from synesthesia that sensory cortices have no choice but to process any inputs they receive.
    • But they're wrong in a more important way: We've believed for years that the visual cortex is actually a visualization center! It just happens that when we're awake and looking with our eyes the visualization is constrained by sensory inputs. Sensory (and even association) cortices are basically simulators, that contain our best models of the world (what we expect the world to be like, based on prior experience), and the parts of those models that are active are dynamically constrained in real time by senso

  • This was an old idea even when it was "invented" back in 1992.

    • by gnupun (752725)
      But will "sound" as vision be tolerable over the long term? Imagine having to listen to non-stop sounds/music your entire waking hours in a day. That's bound to cause earache and sound weariness.
      • by mark-t (151149)
        No more so than keeping your eyes open and subjecting them to photons every waking moment.
      • by Ozoner (1406169)

        An interesting thought: Especially as we can shut our eyes, but not our ears?

      • by mikael (484)

        No different from watching a TV show with lots of flashing lights. My womenfolk can no longer watch some of those talent shows because the program makers completely overdid the lighting effects - they had spotlight patterns moving up and down behind the singer, spinning patterns all over the floor and the spotlight patterns moving sideways to each side of the stage.

  • Eventually this may elevate the works of Science. This aims the blind one to be being capable to see though their own vision.
  • Back in the 70's at least they had white walking sticks with echo location devices on them that allowed blind people to 'see' objects in the room. It was in a 'how it works' book I bought as a kid.
    • by Ravaldy (2621787)

      But like anything, it evolved to the next level so it's news worthy. People had to work to achieve the level they are at now. The concept isn't new but the achievement is.

      The idea and theory on how to go on the moon existed way before we could actually do it.

  • Instead of a 'vision center' of the brain, for example, we may actually have a region that helps us 'see', whether that input comes from sight or sound."

    How about instead of a 'vison center' you call it a 'spacial awareness center'. Then it fits the bill no matter where that information is coming from. Because vision can be broken down into "this is over here" and "that is over there". Now it would be interesting to know if the 'vison center' is active in the blind people who use echo-location, that w
  • If the "vision" center had been named "geometry" center, its activation would be very natural and not a surprise at all.

Almost anything derogatory you could say about today's software design would be accurate. -- K.E. Iverson

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