Feeds

Berkeley boffins crack brain wave code

Electrical signals used to recreate sound heard by test subjects

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.