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Space Science

NASA Develops Tech To Hear Words Not Yet Spoken 466

alex_guy_CA writes "Yahoo News has a story about technology that comes close to reading thoughts not yet spoken, by analyzing nerve commands to the throat. 'A person using the subvocal system thinks of phrases and talks to himself so quietly it cannot be heard, but the tongue and vocal cords do receive speech signals from the brain,' said developer Chuck Jorgensen, of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. Jorgensen's team found that sensors under the chin and one each side of the Adam's apple pick up the brain's commands to the speech organs, allowing the subauditory, or 'silent speech' to be captured. The story indicates the method could be useful on space missions or other difficult working conditions."
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NASA Develops Tech To Hear Words Not Yet Spoken

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  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:43AM (#8596212) Homepage Journal
    No way this could be used for anti-terrorism surveillance...
  • A little confused (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Robert1 ( 513674 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:45AM (#8596224) Homepage
    What I don't quite understand, and the article doesn't make clear; is this thing essentially reading what you're verbally thinking?
    Or is it just intercepting those nerve signals which you use to inaudibly mumble to yourself with?
    If the first is true, then wow, imagine just thinking to your computer and it doing it.
    If the second is true then I don't really see what's so great about it :/
  • by SmlFreshwaterBuffalo ( 608664 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:48AM (#8596239)
    The title implies that this technology could predict speech before it is said, but the article explains that it can simply read people's conscious thoughts as they are occurring. Those seem to be two completely different things to me.
  • by tsunamifirestorm ( 729508 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:48AM (#8596241) Homepage
    the ability to "hear" inaudible conversation is valuable in case there is a lot of outside noide (explosion?) or for psychological reasons (a crew member mutters something under his breath)
  • Lie Detector (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nermal6693 ( 622898 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:49AM (#8596245)
    This could potentially take a lie detector to a new level - people are likely going to think over their possible responses before replying, and this could be used to obtain those thoughts. Scary.
  • by subtropolis ( 748348 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:01AM (#8596307)

    Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do...

  • by trmj ( 579410 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:10AM (#8596355) Journal
    Well, Hawking has a muscle disorder. Exactly what is involved in ALS is beyond me, whether it's just the muscles or if it's a problem with the nerves getting the signals to the muscles. If the problem is the formor, it may save him a lot of typing. If it's the latter, it would be of no use.
  • by modder ( 722270 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:15AM (#8596373)
    Does it still work then?
  • Re:Lie Detector (Score:3, Insightful)

    by trmj ( 579410 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:16AM (#8596378) Journal
    Well, it could be scary, or it could be very helpful. Current lie dector tests rely on your nervous reactions to questions and answers. First they ask control questions, such as "What is your name?" or "Where are you from?" and then they ask the real ones.

    On most people, "Did you rape [insert name here]?" will get a much different response than "What was your dog's name?" However, if you could read their sub-vocal patterns, you would be better able to tell who is practicing a lie before saying it.

    Seems more helpful than scary to me.
  • by NSash ( 711724 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:18AM (#8596384) Journal
    What greater goal could there be other than to control the input and output coming from our consciousness?

    That wouldn't necessarily be a good thing. Did you ever see the ending to Brazil?
  • No real difference (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TekGoNos ( 748138 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:18AM (#8596385) Journal
    While you think verbally, you normally mumble to your self.

    I know for sure that it's always the case when you read (except for some spead-reading technics that involve just looking at the text without formulating the words) and I'm pretty sure it's true for all verbal thougths.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:20AM (#8596393)
    Combine this with a transmitter and receiver, and you get the ability to have sub-vocal backchannel communication with people
    Or the ability to "wiretap" the things floating around in someone's head, the dissents they thought that they were voicing only to themselves.

    Thoughtcrime, indeed.
  • by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:22AM (#8596402) Journal
    Better start practicing singing a song in your head to block out the thought police

    Maybe I'm getting old, but I think it's more likely that under the current administration, I just can't enjoy the innocent thrill of thinking, "Wow, what coll technology!"

    Instead my first thought is, "How soon until that theocrat Ashcroft starts using this to interrogate dissidents?"

    This is perfect for rooting out hidden Muslims -- we're at war, you know --, closeted homosexuals -- Bush's newest appointee has just ruled that homosexual Federal employees can be fired --, and I wonder how soon it will be used to expose athiests and crypto-Catholics at Saint John the Intolerant's regular Department of Justice prayer breakfasts.

    I'm sorry, but I just can't find much glee in this announcement, given the current officially encouraged climate of fear and hostility toward civil liberties.

    Mod parent up -- and start practicing his song: it may soon be the only Fifth Amedment protection you'll have left.
  • by TekGoNos ( 748138 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:28AM (#8596429) Journal
    No danger with the current version.

    You had to think : "two, three, one, four, two, three, three, three, four, two" or so to send "idiot" to your coworkers. (They use a grid with the letters of alphabet to reduce the number of symbols the system has to recognize.)

    But once they implement full word recognition ...
  • by CaptainCarrot ( 84625 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:32AM (#8596450)
    Frank Herbert had this many years ago in The Godmakers.
  • Re:Lie Detector (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sancho ( 17056 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:48AM (#8596504) Homepage
    It's scary if you want to be able to lie, or even just don't want your every conscious thought to be available to people.
    Imagine if one day, in the distant future, EVERYONE was required to have one of these, and ALL of their concious thoughts were analyzed in a Carnivore-like system. Thinking, "I'm going to bomb X embassy," even if you have no intention of doing it, could lead to investigations.
    Right now, our thoughts, our minds, are one of the few safe-havens we have. No one can force us to disclose our thoughts, barring the use of some chmicals that sometimes have a truth-inducing effect (fairly rare, though, because all it really makes you do is talk a lot, but not necessarily about what your interrogators want to hear), and these are very active. They have to grab you, inject you, interrogate you, and all this takes quite a bit of time. With subvocalizers, it would be much easier.

    It IS scary, even just as a lie detector, because what if I thought, "Man, that cop is hot!" while they're interrogating me. Pretty embarassing. And it could lead to a whole slew of fifth amendment issues, in the US.
  • by Zakabog ( 603757 ) <> on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:00AM (#8596541)
    Exactly. There really is no way this could be used for anti-terrorism surveillance. How the hell are they going to get a terrorist to wear this thing strapped to their chins? And why the hell would terrorists speak to each other by just moving their lips? They'd use their real voices, meaning the people listening just need a good listening device. They have those already

    Undercover CIA Agent: Umm your epidermis is showing, allah doesn't like that!
    Potential Terrorist: Oh shit? Really? How can I hide it?!?!?!
    Undercover CIA Agent: Here strap this to your chin.
    Potential Terrorist: *Quickly straps on device*
    Undercover CIA Agent: *goes away and speaks into a megaphone* "OK Now just speak, but don't make any sound! Like you were lip synching to music or something!"
  • Seen this before (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Snafoo ( 38566 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:00AM (#8596547) Homepage
    As another poster mentioned, in OSC's Ender novels, as well as in David Brin's _Earth_. As a matter of fact, the latter described the device almost precisely as described here. Brin even thought of some important caveats: given how difficult it is for the average human being to keep their thoughts on track for 0.2ms, the thing is almost impossible to use for more than 0.3ms. (The extra 0.1ms is the length of time it takes to think 'FORKING PIECE OF SHI.zza!@EOF' as you reach for the sensors.)

    So don't get too excited, all you ADD, quasi-ADD and just plain procrastinatory slashdotters -- whoever ends up using this tech won't be you. :)
  • by malahoo ( 128370 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:44AM (#8596697) Homepage
    "The keys to this system are the sensors, the signal processing and the pattern recognition, and that's where the scientific meat of what we're doing resides." Jorgensen said

    IOW, "The key to this system is the entire system."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @05:28AM (#8596828)
    Much of the control of speech is in the movement of the jaw, lips, tongue, and inhaling/exhaling -- not just the vocal chords. This device will only pick up nerve signals for the vocal chords, which mostly affect tone.

    Try saying a few things with your mouth completely open, a constant amount of air leaving your lungs, and not moving your tongue. I wouldn't want to put military hardware in control of such indistinct speech.
  • Re:Lie Detector (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @06:07AM (#8596928)
    > It's scary if you want to be able to lie, or even just don't want your every
    > conscious thought to be available to people.

    Not so scary if it's accurate and the person who `wants to lie` is being asked questions about the rape of your girlfried, the murder of your child, or the bombing of Madrid.

    > No one can force us to disclose our thoughts, barring the use of some chmicals
    > that sometimes have a truth-inducing effect

    There's also brain scanning machines which can tell if you're lying which are also well under development.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @09:02AM (#8597498)
    ....Think in Russian....think in Russian....
    (Anyone remember "Firefox?")
  • Political Debates (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @09:52AM (#8597798) Homepage Journal
    Hook politicians up to this during a debate. See what they are really thinking when they are not speaking.
  • by fygment ( 444210 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @10:03AM (#8597879)
    Simply take a vocal sample of the person of interest. Now think your words and with a little quick signal processing out comes the voice of the person of interest speaking your words. Fun at parties and for police mounting "sting" operations. Possibly could render recorded conversations inadmissible as evidence.

  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Thursday March 18, 2004 @11:01AM (#8598454) Homepage
    Is abstract thought possible without language?

    Yes. How could one aquire language if thought wasn't there already? Consider the rare feral children adults who have grown up without acquiring language [] - do you think they're "dark inside"? Or even more fascinating, Helen Keller, who acquired language late enough to have memories that pre-dated that acquisition.

    Consult any Zen master for further instruction - that which the Japanese call "mushin" ("no-mind") might be thought of as "thinking without words". (Of course, there is a difference between transcending linguistic thought, and never acquiring it in the first place.)

    But in thinking of mushin as thinking without words, you are thinking with words, and thus getting away from the actual phenomenon. Thus Zen Master Seung Sahn's observation "open mouth, already a mistake" [].

    Man is a thinking reed but his great works are when he is not calculating and thinking. "Childlikeness" has to be restored with long years of training in the art of self-forgetfulness. When this is attained, man thinks yet he does not think. He thinks like the showers coming down from the sky; he thinks like the waves rolling on the ocean; he thinks like the stars illuminating the nightly heavens; he thinks like the green foliage shooting forth in the relaxing spring breeze. Indeed, he is the showers, the ocean, the stars, the foliage. -- D.T. Suzuki
  • Techno-telepathy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @12:31PM (#8599541)
    Combine this with a transmitter and receiver, and you get the ability to have sub-vocal backchannel communication with people

    I for one welcome our new techno-telepathic overlords.

    Seriously though, military applications abound for this. Silent communication without having to maintain line-of-sight to read code hand gestures would be just one. This could be done in short order since the set of commands it has to recognize is short.

    And the Secret Service would be a natural implementation for this as it advances to the stage where they can turn the recorded signals directly into speech. Right now, it's just a few commands and numbers.

    And if they can feed them back along the same pathways and let the brain interpret the signals, or simulation through the skin to the auditory nerves to prevent eavesdropping on the receiver, all the better.

    To keep the channels open, have them keep a single tone in their minds to enable communications (that you can detect) and you have voluntary mind-talk a la The Tomorrow People.
  • by Feanturi ( 99866 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @12:55PM (#8599873)
    And also, it's a tough when you are around people who are aware in the same ways. --If you want to keep your thoughts private, you have to stop your mind from being so sloppy and loud. On the other hand, it gives you a whole spectrum of very useful awareness and self-control when dealing with people who have no idea about this stuff.

    Sounds like somebody needs a tinfoil hat..
  • by glimes ( 755372 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:07PM (#8601664)
    It also takes sensors in contact with your skin to
    pick up the subvocalization electronically -- this
    is not something you can do unobtrusively.
  • by ediron2 ( 246908 ) * on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:34PM (#8601990) Journal
    When I was the bright scrawny little one who the gorrillas were cheating off of, I used to resort to tactics to 'educate' them. I'd give the same (flawed) answers to 2 or 3 people, so they'd be separated and watched closely on the next test.

    Shifting to this story's context, I think the headset (or whatever gadget form this takes) will be a bit obvious for now. And I think worrying about cheating in the face of improved communication tools is fairly silly... we're so far from an invisible, ubiquitous, encrypted, silent channel for communication that you're better off worrying about all the current ways that work for cheating: grading each others' work under a mutual-improvement agreement, crib sheets (including *in* calculators or on sticks of chewing gum), pencil tap codes (excellent for multiple choice tests), ad-hoc sign language, reviewing old exams from prior students, learning a few canned answers, bringing in helpful info in dummy bluebooks, etc etc etc.

    All of these are fixed by fixing the test itself. Use essays, show-the-work questions, and other ways of documenting on-test the student's ability to THINK. Once they're done, even subvocal cheating becomes harder.

    Frankly, by the time we get subvocal communication at the 'free with an order of fries' price, I hope we'll have improved education a few ways. Cuz the educational system's still stone-knives and bearskins, compared to it's potential. But that's just my opinion.

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe