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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 mmoncur ( 229199 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:41AM (#8596199) Homepage
    Wow! Combine this with a transmitter and receiver, and you get the ability to have sub-vocal backchannel communication with people--I think it was Gregory Benford who wrote a series of books that featured something like this.

    Way better than text messaging.
  • by william_lorenz ( 703263 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:46AM (#8596234) Homepage
    I wonder if this could benefit Stephen Hawking []? Good thing he's got friends at NASA. ;)
  • by Thinkit4 ( 745166 ) * on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:52AM (#8596264)
    Whenever input (such as artifial eyes) or output (such as this) to consciousness is reported, it's often framed in terms of the handicapped. But it is all humans who are handicapped. Why must we endure pain just to be able to draw blood? As this article mentions, why can't we have private conversations like we can have private listening? What greater goal could there be other than to control the input and output coming from our consciousness?

    Space travel is trivial in comparison.

  • by Kulic ( 122255 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:55AM (#8596277) Homepage
    but it'll probably be years before we see it commercially.

    Imagine using voice commands to control your computer remotely - you're on a croweded bus, using your cell phone to connect to your house computer, telling it subvocally to turn on the airconditioning in time for when you get home, to turn on the coffee maker and download some work from the office and a movie for later. And no one hears anything, and the only thing they can see moving is your throat. What about dictating a letter on your way home, or other documents?

    What about secret service agents? Or the military? No more needing to talk into their sleeves or using noisy radio to give away their position. You could have the conversation turn up on a pda screen, or have an artifical voice piped into ear phones. How cool would that be?

    I'm sure there's lots more stuff you could use this for that I haven't even thought of yet, but I'm betting it is still years away.
  • by Facekhan ( 445017 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:56AM (#8596281)
    Better start practicing singing a song in your head to block out the thought police. "Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb, Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow..."
  • Interesting uses... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eric_Cartman_South_P ( 594330 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:00AM (#8596298)
    Navy Seals on a mission: great way to communicate to each other in stealth.

    Sports cheating: communicate perfectly to coach when you are not supposed to.

    Croc Hunter: sneak up on animals in the wild to research, etc, and communicate with team and not startle animals.

    Porn: somehow... someway...

    Government: give tech 20 more years and when these signals can be picked up remotely, let FBI tap the signals without a court order because, hey, there is a War On Terror(TM) to fight.

    Interrorgation: capture truth someone would have wanted/started to say but then held their tounge at the last second.

    Slashdot: this tech + reconition to text + scripting = best chance at first post. Just think about BSD dying, and it's dead!

  • This scares me (Score:1, Interesting)

    by El_Froggo ( 566773 ) <El_Froggo@C[ ] ['rac' in gap]> on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:03AM (#8596313)
    If people could hear all the things I say to myself, everyone would think I was insane. I don't want to be locked up for saying something I didn't want anyone to hear.
  • by Schlemphfer ( 556732 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:04AM (#8596321) Homepage
    There are times when we think in complete sentences, and times when we just rely on non-verbal thinking. Generally, the more planned the act, the more likely that complete sentences pass through your brain.

    For instance, you're more likely to simply pick a quarter off the floor than to say, "I am going to pick this quarter off the floor." Whereas, you're very likely to think the sentence, "I should buy some wine on my way home from the market" if that's part of your plans.

    Seems to me that this technology could, in short order, discern the verbal sentences we fashion for ourselves as part of our daily thinking. But it won't ever pick up on the million thoughts we have each day that aren't based on words.

    If this technology gets deployed, society will have to learn in short order that not every thought is legitimate. My verbalizing the thought to myself, "I am Napoleon" does not necessarily mean that I think I am Napoleon.

    One last thought. If we get widespread, cheap deployment of this technology, it will have as big an effect on our lives as the World Wide Web.

  • hmmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JeremyALogan ( 622913 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:05AM (#8596331) Homepage
    as I got half-ways through reading the article I got curious... sure enough, if you take a finger (or 2) and stick them under your throat you can feel it contracting slightly... just when reading. so now the question is: does it happen while I'm typing too, and the answer is YES... I actually spell out my words, and say my punctuation, while typing.

    reminds me of this toy (was it a "transformers" toy?) I had when I was a kid. you'd basically talk into this tube (without talking... just form your words) and it'd make the sounds. I guess it worked on pressure differences or something... kids get crappy toys now
  • by abscondment ( 672321 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:11AM (#8596360) Homepage
    Yeah, or think about test taking--it would take cheating to a whole new (although probably expensive) level.
  • by sysbot ( 238421 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:13AM (#8596366)
    How about interfacing with a computer? How's about mind control "everything"! This is cool!!
  • cellular phones ! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by S3D ( 745318 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:19AM (#8596390)
    At last I will not have to hear four persons shouting in their phones just around my pen in the open space. And there will not be those mad-looking people talking into the empty space on the street. On the other side, someone who talk other the phone a lot may forget actually produce sounds while talking with somebody nearby.
  • by indigeek ( 755687 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:24AM (#8596411)
    It should not be too much of a problem once people get used to it. And it shouldnt be too much more difficult than to control than actually (vocally) talking without thinking.
    Humans right now are trained to keep their mouth shut even when they are thinking, or even talk exactly opposite of what they think. We yet are not used to controlling the previous level, ie subconsciously talking (ever noticed people at bus stops muttering to themselves or even smiling?) .Once this technology has become mainstream, we should be able to adapt and to think only at a brain level instead of translating into vocal commands. (Qustion: Do Spanish people think differently from Chinese people who don't have a proper phonetic language if they are thinking to themselves?)
    And I think we have done this before. Imagine a non-humanoid alien landing on earth. I am sure he would be surprised that all the humans can actually balance themselves on 2 foot and even run around (They would probably think it a waste trying to balance yourself on a point while crawling is much less brain intensive). And Imagine, these beings can even balance themselves on 2 inch thick wheels around a metre above earth (bicycles).And this technique has no evolutionary basis, almost all the humans learned it within a 100 years or so. Looks like a very adaptable race to me.
  • by zelyan ( 222028 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:28AM (#8596430)
    Which of course brings up the question

    Who's going to have the first 24/7 subvocal weblog?

    Who, extending the webcams, is willing to put every single thought they have, enough to subvocalize, out onto the web?


  • by kundor ( 757951 ) <kundor&member,fsf,org> on Thursday March 18, 2004 @03:29AM (#8596436) Homepage
    by making this post choosing Microsoft's speech recognition It is obvious that vocal largest speech recognition an needs and a lot of work before some vocal recognition challenges can be considered feasible

    Translation: I am making this post using Microsoft's speech recognition. It is obvious that vocalized speech recognition needs a lot of work before subvocal recognition challenges can be considered feasible.
    I mean, when with full sound you can't get good dictation, the possibility of eeking it out of throat twitches are fairly low, methinks.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:19AM (#8596605)
    I was told about 3 or so years ago that this was what was in current use by the US Special Operations.
    A good friend of mine gave me this information. Was he just full of it and being a misinforming cock who took advantage of my trust? Or is this really in use today? (And has been since ~2001?)
  • More Practical Uses (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grip3n ( 470031 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:20AM (#8596607) Homepage
    Anyone else here feel that getting those words not yet spoken would be an absolute breakthrough in relationships with their girlfriends? Man that would have saved my butt countless times...
  • Douglas Adams... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Loonacy ( 459630 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:32AM (#8596645)
    Am I the only one who thought about that telepathic race of aliens in HHGTTG where they are constantly talking so their brain doesn't broadcast every thought they're having?
    It's an interesting idea, though. If the FBI/CIA/KGB/MIB get ahold of you and try to interrogate you with this, just start spouting random words, it'll garble the rest of what they're trying to make you think out loud.
  • by superyooser ( 100462 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @04:36AM (#8596663) Homepage Journal
    Could a "taped" confession of inaudible, unspoken words be admissable in court? Is an unspoken answer really an answer? What's to prevent an interrogator from making things up? I think it would be a scary situation for the prosecuting attorney to say, "The computer said he admitted it!" when you know you admitted nothing.

    There must be a perceptible verification of the action. A lot of people are wary of e-voting if there is no paper confirmation of the cast ballot. For legal testimonies, there should be an audible (or written and signed) record of the confession.

  • New Cell Phone Tech? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @06:06AM (#8596922)
    So could this be combined with the audio molar implant to give us a truly hands free and silent cell phone?
  • by ozbird ( 127571 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @06:11AM (#8596939)
    Try sotto voce (subvocal) whistling instead. If you use the speech parts of the brain, it's quite easy to slip up and say something you didn't intend. If you whistle, it's very difficult - if not impossible - to accidentally say anything; you have to stop whistling first, switching focus from your mouth (which is where the whistle is generated) to your vocal cords (for speech.)
  • by cevnet ( 578229 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @06:14AM (#8596945)
    (Qustion: Do Spanish people think differently from Chinese people who don't have a proper phonetic language if they are thinking to themselves?)
    I've always wondered how people who haven't acquired language at all think. Is abstract thought possible without language?
  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @06:21AM (#8596961) Homepage
    That is, you're assuming the human mind has the same communication lexicon (based on simple emotional syntax) at the core, and spoken language is nothing more then an interchangeable shell.

  • by AvantLegion ( 595806 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @06:21AM (#8596962) Journal
    Guys, no matter how geeky and nerdy you want to be, NEVER TAKE THIS INVENTION ON A DATE!

    You know, you say that, but what were to happen if everyone had these on dates?

    After an adjustment period, women would get used to the idea of being told, "wow, you have nice tits" when out on a date with someone that finds them attractive. Sure, initially, many (if not most or even virtually all) women would find it less than pleasant, but they already know every guy's secretly thinking it. When every guy starts saying it, well, they'll get used to it. Womankind will adapt.

    Probably a harder adjustment for women, though, will be having the doors blown off of their head games. No hard to get, no sadistic toying with guys, no enjoying free stuff without really liking the guy all that much. Of course, at the same time, their brutal honesty would deflate a lot of male egos. Honest opinions about anatomy size, and throwing out fake orgasms, might give men a little more harsh look into the womens' sexuality than they might like. And men have to 'fess up to dating someone just for sex. But men too will adapt. Besides, the men and women that are just looking for sex will be able to find each other more easily - no smokescreens of false affection!

    Clearly, this is the next dating revolution.

  • by jorleif ( 447241 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @07:17AM (#8597133)
    A very interesting question. However if these people are to ever convince us that they possess abstract thought they will have to communicate that somehow. The least linguistic way of communicating would probably be through acting intelligently in some kind of test setting. No simple experiments :)
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @07:23AM (#8597150)
    Could it be used for people that have their vocal cords destroyed ?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @08:01AM (#8597258)
    What about screaming at the bottom of your lungs? If somebody's listening in, at least make it uncomfortable for them.
  • by c4miles ( 249464 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @08:35AM (#8597372) Homepage
    I have never studied it formally, but I believe it can be phrased similarly to your question: "Cognitive thought is impossible without a language or equivalent system of metaphors".

    You'll find a lot of discussion on the web about it. Also, I believe Noam Chomsky has a great deal to say about it.

    Forgive my lack of precise knowledge, but this might give you a starting point for further investigation.
  • by Tlosk ( 761023 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @08:38AM (#8597388)
    I suspect one of the more interesting uses this might be put to would be to have the device record while you're sleeping. It would be capable of providing a transcription of your dream speech. For those of us in creative fields, this would be a wonderful source for novel ideas and concepts from which to work. Some of my best work had it's genesis in the poorly remembered bits and pieces of my dreams the night before. It could be a bit frightening as well though, there's a *lot* of processing that goes on below the level of concious perception. It might be a bit disconcerting to have access to this other self which isn't a normal part of our self concept.
  • by cnelzie ( 451984 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @08:38AM (#8597390) Homepage
    ...discusion a few days back.

    Someone was complaining about how silly it was that the Enterprise-D computer would know 'immediately' where to send Captain Picard's voice when he was going to ask for the bridge and why there was an 'immediate' response from Riker, Data or whomever...

    This is why!

    While the current version might require being connected directly to your head, future versions might 'read' you from afar to be able to anticipate the next words out of your mouth!

    Apparently, it seems that you can complain about the impossibility of a Science Fiction show one day and then Slashdot will provide you some answers leading to the technology you griped about previously...
  • by themightythor ( 673485 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @08:54AM (#8597463)
    Comments thus far seem to imply that people are thinknig that this thing will magically pluck your thoughts from your brain. What I got out of it is that this is the next generation of sub-vocal microphones that are used by the military. You still have to "vocalize" (i.e. manipulate your voice box and perhaps toungue and jaw) in order for the thing to detect anything at all. So, on a mind reading level, how is that any different than a regular microphone? If you were in a situation where someone wanted to obtain insight in to your subconcious thoughts (i.e. an interogation), perhaps they might be able to gain something. But it seems to me that you could conciously tighten your larynx to prevent anything from being transmitted.
  • by back_pages ( 600753 ) <back_pages AT cox DOT net> on Thursday March 18, 2004 @09:40AM (#8597704) Journal
    I'm a computer scientist, so keep in mind my area of expertise...

    There are a number of animals that use tools to complete tasks. Birds hunting for grubs with pointy sticks is a great example. I don't know if this would happen, but if you put such a bird in an enclosure with no pointy sticks but a supply of pointy stick-like objects and used one to catch a grub, there might be an argument for abstract thought. If you offered the bird different grub catching tools and it figured out how to use them, I think you probably have a good case that the bird can abstract the problem and the solution without a real language.

    Then, of course, you wonder if the bird has a language or not. They might communicate with each other without a problem, but I doubt they have anything that would pass as a language that supports abstract ideas. But I'm no expert, just guessing.

  • Oh god, the cheating (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Iowaguy ( 621828 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @11:03AM (#8598503)
    As an educator, I see a nightmare if this technology goes mainstream. Kids will send messages through calculators, which is bad enough. How the hell would you stop this?

  • Invisible Writings (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Desval ( 219840 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @12:24PM (#8599455) Homepage
    This sounds alot like Terry Pratchett's idea of "Invisible Writings". Since all books are influenced by those that were written before it, you can deduce the contents of books that have not been written yet by analyzing existing texts.
  • by Applepuppy ( 563948 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @01:15PM (#8600156)
    Has anyone thought about the medical applications for this technology? Why not use this technology on the comatose and or physically handicaped? How about doing away with the cancer flute?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2004 @01:57PM (#8600748)
    Porn: somehow... someway...

    So, now pr0n babes can talk with their mouth full. Dang, they may have to start memorize lines and take acting lessons.
  • by Doubting Thomas ( 72381 ) on Thursday March 18, 2004 @02:47PM (#8601408)
    That's probably where I've seen this before, then. I couldn't recall if it was Brin or Simmons where I'd seen this first.

    In Earth, wasn't there the added complication of not letting your thoughts wander so far that the computer mistakes idle wool-gathering as command input?

    It's really awkward to explain to the cops why your robotic lawnmower was chasing your annoying next door neighbor, or why your dishwasher tried to eat your girlfriend right after you two got into a big fight.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."