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Biotech Science Technology

Major Breakthrough in Direct Neural Interface 308

jd writes "In a major breakthrough, neurologists are reporting that they can decypher neurological impulses into speech with an 80% accuracy. A paralyzed man who is incapable of speech has electrodes implanted in his brain which detect the electrical pulses in the brain relating to speech. These signals are then fed into computers which covert these pulses into signals suitable for speech synthesis. As a biotech marvel, this is astonishing. Depending on the rate of development it is possible to imagine Professor Hawking migrating to this, as it would be immune to any further loss of body movement and would vastly accelerate his ability to talk. On the flip-side, direct brain I/O is also a major step towards William Gibson's Neuromancer and other cyberpunk dark futures."
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Major Breakthrough in Direct Neural Interface

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  • ...your antivirus software is up-to-date before you plug your brain in cause I hear it really sucks when your brain Snow Crashes [wikipedia.org]!
  • what if (Score:5, Funny)

    by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:47PM (#21381067)
    The subject turns out to have Tourettes syndrome?

    OI! [redacted] will you [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] make me a [redacted][redacted][redacted] cup of [redacted] coffee?

    Brain obscenity filters for teh wins....
    • Sadly more likely... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:05PM (#21381325)
      My wife was in a massive car accident, a decade ago. She was in a coma for a month, suffered brain injuries, a collapsed lung, shattered arm, cracked eye socket, multiply broken jaw, etc. A national merit scholarship winner before the accident, her parents were told that, if she survived, she'd likely never walk much or be able to look after herself again.

      As it happened, she was sufficiently beaten up at the time that she had no concept of how bad her injuries were. She got out of the wheelchair simply because it frustrated her. She went back to working part time simply because she didn't realize she wasn't supposed to be able to. By the time she comprehended what had happened, she'd improved enough that setting impossible goals like "become a personal trainer" weren't quite so impossible. We taught her to read again (yes, even that got messed up) and even managed to get her back in to school - initially only able to pull a 2.0 average but improved each semester.

      In her case, she had an amazing recovery. Yet she, herself, says, "If I'm ever like that again, turn me off." She didn't realize how hurt she was and got lucky with recovering before she did. Understanding now, she has absolutely no desire to try that fight again. She'd rather just call it a day.

      So, sadly, there's a real likelihood that his first words, upon realizing he can finally communicate, after years of being unable to and stuck in a totally paralyzed body, will be, "Kill me." Probably not ideal to have the family in the room for.

      And yes, that entire story was just so I could "drop" that I have a wife in a slashdot post. Cunning, huh?
      • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd.bandrowsky@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:08PM (#21381367) Homepage Journal
        And yes, that entire story was just so I could "drop" that I have a wife in a slashdot post. Cunning, huh?

        Your wife's recovery and you staying with her, through all of that, is the most poignant thing I have read on Slashdot, ever.

        A story like yours deserves to be told, and demands that we listen.

        May the winds always be at your back.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by papvf ( 725513 )
          As a slashdot.dot reader it goes without saying that I love to revel in the latest tech but, stories like this one prove that it is people like you and your wife that are the true inspirations in the world. All the tech and science is wasted if it can't benefit people with "real lives" like yours. Like tjstork said: "A story like yours deserves to be told, and demands that we listen." Any that don't listen, cut them selves off to reality and lose out on more than they can dream of. -papvf
        • I may not agree with you about much, tj, but I surely agree with you on this. I actually got a little misty eyed...
          • by tjstork ( 137384 )
            may not agree with you about much, tj, but I surely agree with you on this. I actually got a little misty eyed...

            Misty eyed? Me too. And this sort of thing that we agree on is really what's most important. All the other stuff, well, is just that, other stuff.

            Have a great weekend! I'm sure we'll argue over something 'ere too long!
        • May the winds always be at your back.
          unless you need assisted lift or to stop your ship before the reefs.
      • And yes, that entire story was just so I could "drop" that I have a wife in a slashdot post. Cunning, huh?
        Quite. And it didn't even involve a turnip.
  • More info (Score:5, Informative)

    by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:48PM (#21381091) Journal
    The BBC article is pretty light on detail, and the New Scientist one is subscribers only, but there is more stuff here [eurekalert.org].

    They have hooked up to 41 neurons and:

    For now, the team is focusing on the building blocks of words. In a series of experiments over the last few years, Ramsey has imagined saying three vowel sounds: "oh", "ee" and "oo". By watching his brain activity, the researchers have been able to identify distinct patterns associated with the different sounds. Although the data is still being analysed, they believe that they can correctly identify the sound Ramsey is imagining around 80 per cent of the time
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WombatDeath ( 681651 )
      Cool! With a bit more work he'll be able to join in the chorus of Old MacDonald.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sseaman ( 931799 )
      Thanks, that's quite helpful. I could find no details about this on my own, lacking a New Scientist subscription. He isn't "imagining" these sounds - he's trying to produce them. I suspect they've tapped into the motor cortex, where one of the last stages of motor processing. They're not tapping into "speech" centers - it's simply a motor area associated with articulatory muscles. Not that it isn't impressive, but it's not a step towards mind-reading or better computer-human interfaces unless you suffe
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)


      Well, he can already do a voice over part of the Flying Monkey Chorus if they ever remake the Wizard of Oz.

      This tech is so cool it's not funny.
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:50PM (#21381113) Homepage Journal
    "Beeeeeep." [memory-alpha.org]
  • This sounds great, but considering how well cochlear implants work this scares me a bit. I know some one who has a a defective cochlear and it is causing her a lot of problems. Worse than the fact that her restored hearing sounds like a computer and the implant is failing is the prospect of another operation to fix it. How ever much this technology could be of benefit I would much rather avoid the implants all together.
    • by crgrace ( 220738 )
      You shouldn't be scared about cochlear implants. The cochlea is just a biological transducer (converts pressure changes to electrical pulses). It is complex, but it is not a "decision-making" part of the brain. It serves as an input to the brain. So, a cochlear implant replaces the biological transducer with an electronic one. It works well but of course it will be improved.

  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn ( 1126837 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:51PM (#21381141)
    What drives the advances of the last couple decades?

    Two desires:

    1. To restore Stephen Hawking's physical body to its former fully-functional form.

    2. To turn Stephen Hawking into a mobile, indestructible cyborg of incomprehensible power.
    • Once we've accomplished the first part, he'll take care of the second on his own.

      Be fearful!
    • Been done! (Score:4, Funny)

      by Sqweegee ( 968985 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:00PM (#21381267)
      http://www.theonion.com/content/node/39133 [theonion.com]

      "With the new exoskeleton, Stephen will be able to safely handle radioactive isotopes in the high-radiation area of the new supercollider particle accelerator. And his new robo-arms are capable of ripping open enemy tanks like they were nutshells,"
    • That one is just hanging there....waiting to be written...but NOOOOOO!, the got to make Nixon the indestructable cyborg....
    • To Six million dollar man Stephen Hawking to the point that there are two Chuck Norrises in the world, asymptotically, of course. Because the only thing better than Chuck Norris is a geek Chuck Norris i guess.
    • by kabocox ( 199019 )
      What drives the advances of the last couple decades?

      Two desires:
      1. To restore Stephen Hawking's physical body to its former fully-functional form.
      2. To turn Stephen Hawking into a mobile, indestructible cyborg of incomprehensible power.

      It was the movie RoboCop that's driving it all. No one really cares about that one disabled genius. The public just thinks most geniuses are mad scientists anyway and are just waiting for an evil one to "invent" or experiment with making RoboCop.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ByteSlicer ( 735276 )
      3. Cowboy Neal
  • by raddan ( 519638 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:51PM (#21381143)
    Read carefully

    Although the data is still being analysed, researchers at Boston University believe they can correctly identify the sound Mr Ramsay's brain is imagining some 80% of the time.

    In the next few weeks, a computer will start the task of translating his thoughts into sounds.

    "We hope it will be a breakthrough," says Joe Wright of Neural Signals, which has helped develop the technology.
    While this is indeed promising, and I hope that this 'unlocks' this poor fellow, this 'unlocking' has not happened yet. Hopefully, when they are able to decipher these signals, he's not saying, "Kill me" over and over again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by noidentity ( 188756 )
      It's OK, the editors are only able to decipher what TFA says some 80% of the time.
    • by FleaPlus ( 6935 )
      While this is indeed promising, and I hope that this 'unlocks' this poor fellow, this 'unlocking' has not happened yet.

      It's a little unclear from the BBC article, but going from their research posters [speechprosthesis.org], they have in fact tested the translation already, using a data set compiled from neural recordings made while having the subject try to produce different phoneme sounds. However, this analysis was done "offline," not in real-time. I think what they're referring to doing in the "next few weeks" is getting the
  • What? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wellington Grey ( 942717 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:51PM (#21381153) Homepage Journal
    Electrodes have been implanted in the brain of Eric Ramsay, who has been "locked in" - conscious but paralysed - since a car crash eight years ago.

    What do you do for eight years as a locked in? Wouldn't that drive a normal person insane or dull the mind beyond all recognition? Does anyone know about the mental state of these people?

    -Grey [silverclipboard.com]
  • by 2TecTom ( 311314 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:58PM (#21381241) Homepage Journal
    and not a 'techno-biological' failure. The future's darkness comes from a tyrannical plutocracy which misuses the technology, which could have just as easily been used to save mankind. It is in fact an outgrowth of current economics and politics, not technology. Please, get your stories straight.
    • But your kind of reasoning could also be used inside out, eg: "Mr. Gibson's dark future is a technological failure and not an economical/political one. That nasty future comes from a tyrannical group of technologists who misuse the social system."

      What I want to say is technology and politics/economics are all a creature of humans. It's just as misleading blaming "economics" and "politics" instead of the people misusing the system (who are basically all of us), as it is to blame a particular technology for

      • by conspirator57 ( 1123519 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:53PM (#21382055)
        Tyranny has been around since before the stone age. What has technology got to do with it other than increasing the tyrant to subject ratio? The desire to oppress is inherently a human social one. Some will claim (neocons for instance) that we can use tyranny to make things better, but it doesn't work that way. Technology, on the other hand is much more legitimately separable from human motivation (there are a variety of motivations that can lead to most technologies.) Moreover, unlike tyranny, we have a chance of using a given technology only(or at least predominately) for good. Technology is a double edged sword, in part because it and its fruits are actually tools, not motivations unto themselves.
    • Vinge, not Gibson (Score:4, Informative)

      by wurp ( 51446 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @05:40PM (#21384121) Homepage
      Gibson didn't invent cyberspace. Vernor Vinge invented cyberspace (although I don't think he coined the term) in True Names.

      If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. Read True Names to get a notion of the profound visionary Vernor Vinge is. (Remember it was published in 1981).

      Then read Rainbows End with your newfound respect for Vinge's powers of prognostication, and recognize that you're seeing into the near future.
  • Remember a few years ago when we could control wheelchairs with 90% accuracy from electromagnetic transducers outside the skull. Now the external sensors are gone and we have a breakthrough with 80% accurate speech synthesis from internal sensors. Wonder when the wheelchair one is going to become a product.

  • I have to be really skeptical when I see this kind of report. Research has suggested that the way the brain functions to produce speech is not like typing out words into a computer. Things are probably not grouped by the similarities in their letters or pronunciation. They are most likely stored by a particular hierarchy that may or may not vary widely across individuals depending mainly on environment. Noise also becomes a huge issue, having the electrodes inside the brain cuts down on that problem but
  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:10PM (#21381391)
    how would it bea ble to differentiate between "out loud" voice and private thoughts? This could be really embarrasing for users. Imagine if a secretary (or nurse) walks by when you're in the middle of speaking or dictating a letter:

    Dear sir,
    I am writing wow nice tits and she has a great ass too uh oh wedding ring in order to ask if you would be interested in our new product line of neural-input word processors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Poromenos1 ( 830658 )
      I am actually curious about this. How many of you talk in your head? I have noticed that I haven't done it frequently in a few years, these days the thoughts mainly just "happen". It seems to me as if the thoughts "happen" anyway (in an instant), but people talk to themselves to mull them over or just to pass the time. How many of you talk inside your heads, and how often?
  • computers which covert these pulses
  • 80% accuracy... (Score:3, Informative)

    by uwbbjai ( 661340 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:11PM (#21381403)
    It reads: "Dear Aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all"

    What do you want to decipher today?
  • Then it shouldn't to hard to use the same impulses for control interfaces, so thinking of speaking and manipulating your computer, or other item.
  • ...when I read about advances in neural-electrical interfacing, I hope for a quick solution to the problem of blindness. I have so many friends that would be even more creative and productive, if they only could see.

    My mother is becoming blind, too, and it's breaking my heart to see her like that. I hope an affordable implantable camera, interfaced to the vision centers, will come in the near future. Nothing fancy, just B&W at low resolution with no greyscale, would do miracles.
    • by Knara ( 9377 )

      there's a couple prototypes for this sort of thing out already. I was reading about one a few months ago in some online version of a mainstream mag.

    • IAANS(I am a neuropsychology student)

      The issue with treating blindness is the occipital lobe of the brain(and other areas) needs appropriate input at certain ages in order to develop typically. If your friends have acquired blindess in adolescence or adulthood, then it would be fairly simple(the preceeding is a lie) to hook up a camera to their optic nerve, much like we do with cochlear implants. The neurons have learned how to deal with visual input earlier, and now are just kicking around relaxing and w
  • by uhlume ( 597871 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:44PM (#21381903) Homepage
    Subject's first words? "Dear Aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all."
  • by StressGuy ( 472374 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:49PM (#21381981)
    ...is in the right part of the circut

    I don't always want my "first throught" to be the one that gets verbalized, know what I mean?

    Hi Mrs. Johnson, nice tits!....buts a little big though

    Oh shit....did I say that out loud?
  • Research posters (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:53PM (#21382051) Journal
    For those curious, this speech prosthesis research was presented in a number of posters at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference a couple weeks ago. Their six SfN posters can be found on their website here, covering topics like the circuitry they developed, Bayesian signal analysis, and so forth:

    http://migrate.speechprosthesis.org/DNN2/SpeechProsthesisHome/tabid/52/Default.aspx [speechprosthesis.org]

    There's also a nice blog entry on this over at Neurophilosophy:

    http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2007/11/speech_prosthesis.php [scienceblogs.com]
  • Obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

    by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @03:02PM (#21382181)
    Dear aunt, let's so double the killer delete select all.
  • And yet... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PingXao ( 153057 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @04:05PM (#21383029)
    I still can't scan a 50 page document and OCR it without spending hours to clean it up afterwards. Nor can voice recognition software really understand or interpret what I say and lay it out with correct punctuation on paper.

    Those are 2 basic advanced tasks I would expect to be perfected at some point, and until they are I take all these great human-machine interface "breakthroughs" with huge grains of salt.
  • by mesterha ( 110796 ) <chris.mesterharm@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Friday November 16, 2007 @05:18PM (#21383891) Homepage

    One has to wonder who is doing the work. Is the paralyzed man adapting to the computer or is the computer learning the brain signals. Either way, it's good work, but I would bet that the way to perfect this type of technology is to "teach" the human to control his neurological impulses. I doubt the technology is directly eavesdropping on his speech.

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