Berkeley boffins crack brain wave code

Electrical signals used to recreate sound heard by test subjects


Scientists have reconstructed the words people hear by using a computer algorithm to decode electrical signals in the brain.

Eggheads at the University of California in Berkeley fastened electrodes onto the bare brains of patients undergoing neurosurgery. The scientists were studying the superior temporal gyrus (ridge on the cerebral cortex), the area thought to play a crucial role in comprehending the sounds we hear.

During surgery, patients were played recordings of people speaking. As the patients' brains processed the auditory information, the electrodes attached to their brains transmitted electrical signals into a computer. Software then calculated how the subjects' brains responded according to the speech frequencies they heard. It could therefore reproduce a sound close enough to the original word for the researchers to guess the word better than chance.

The study shows that one day people like Stephen Hawking may be able to upgrade the speech software they use to technology that can process their very thoughts.

“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 Robert Knight, professor of psychology and neuroscience, and lead author of the study, published in PLoS Biology. "If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit."

The research is based on a study of only 15 people and the technique cannot yet read imagined speech. Understanding that is the next step, says Brian Pasley, a post-doctoral researcher who worked on the project.

"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," Pasley said in a statement.

"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 team behind the research is fighting the suggestion that subsequent technology based on this procedure could be used with malign intent. For the moment, the technique works only on patients who are undergoing neurosurgery and willing to have 256 electrodes attached to their exposed brains.

“How Dr Strangelove might use this in the future is slightly above my pay grade,” Knight said. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021