scorecardPromising new brain-reading tech can decode internal speech, but can it give Musk’s Neuralink a run for its money?
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Promising new brain-reading tech can decode internal speech, but can it give Musk’s Neuralink a run for its money?

Promising new brain-reading tech can decode internal speech, but can it give Musk’s Neuralink a run for its money?
LifeScience4 min read
The idea of someone being able to read our thoughts could be terrifying. You do NOT want everyone to know how many times in a day you think about Aditi Rao Hydari’s gaja gamini walk in Heeramandi. But there’s no denying that there are several merits to this as well, particularly among those who cannot communicate their thoughts verbally. And that’s apparently the reason why many companies worldwide are racing to develop technology that can read our minds.

In the last few years, Elon Musk's Neuralink has dominated the headlines with its ambitious plans for a brain-computer interface (BCI) that could revolutionise everything from how we interact with technology to how we treat neurological conditions. Overall, it is more about translating thoughts into actions. But the new contender that has emerged boasts the groundbreaking ability to decode internal speech.

The first to successfully identify words spoken entirely within the mind, this study marks a significant leap forward in BCI technology. Researchers implanted tiny electrodes in the brains of two participants to capture their brain activity as they silently "said" specific words.

The words silently spoken were decoded with an accuracy of 79% in one of the participants. While the technology is still in its early stages and focused on a small vocabulary of six words, it holds immense promise for the future.
A peek inside the brain
The researchers tested the brain implant by showing participants words on a screen and asking them to silently "say" those words eight times each over three days. The implant (BCI) then used a computer model to analyse the brain activity patterns and guess the words the participants were thinking in real time. This study explored a previously uninvestigated area of the brain, the supramarginal gyrus, for speech decoding.

While the accuracy of the mind-reading was impressive for one participant (79%), it was much lower for the other (23%). This difference might be because the second person's brain used different areas (sub-areas) to process silent speech, with some brain cells firing more for specific words like "spoon" or "swimming".

Scientists believe these results show that people don't all think in the same way, and this could explain why the BCI worked better for one person than the other. They also discovered that while most brain cells activated during both silent thought and spoken words, some cells were only active during silent speech or responded differently to specific words.
Unlocking communication for those who can't speak
This mind-reading tech could be a game-changer for people with conditions like locked-in syndrome, where they are paralyzed but fully aware. By decoding their internal speech, the implants could give them a voice and a way to interact with the world.

The study focused on decoding individual words, but the researchers are aiming higher. Their next step is to see if the implants can differentiate between letters, paving the way for a silent internal speech speller. This could revolutionise communication for those who have lost their ability to speak.

The research has a long way to go before becoming a widespread clinical tool. Scientists need to understand more about how the brain processes internal speech and expand the vocabulary the implants can decode. But this breakthrough is a major step forward in brain-computer interface technology.

As with any powerful technology, mind-reading raises ethical concerns. Issues like privacy and security need to be carefully addressed to ensure this technology is used responsibly.
But how does this compare to Neuralink?
There are key differences between this new research and Neuralink. Neuralink's current focus is on broader BCI applications, like controlling external devices. This new research, however, targets a specific and crucial need — restoring communication for those who can't speak due to conditions like ALS or locked-in syndrome.

The ability to decode internal speech offers a unique advantage. Unlike existing BCIs that rely on partially vocalised speech or muscle movements, this technology taps directly into the brain activity behind silent thought. This opens doors for communication that wouldn't be possible with other methods.

However, the new study's limited vocabulary and the fact that it only worked effectively for one participant highlight the need for further research. Additionally, questions remain about how the technology would function in people who haven't been able to speak for extended periods.

Despite these challenges, the potential of this new brain-reading tech is undeniable. The researchers' next step is to see if the BCI can differentiate between letters, paving the way for a silent internal speech speller. It's an exciting development with the potential to transform lives. And one thing is certain: the race to unlock the potential of the human brain is heating up. This bodes well for the future of BCIs, offering new hope for those who could benefit most from this revolutionary technology.

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