Future Health - 6/12/19

Delivering care in the new virtual world…


Turning Thoughts Into Words – When I read the short article, my response was: “You’ve got to be kidding – say it isn’t so!”  But, it is so!!  Scientists from the University of California have been working on brain-to-speech technology for some time and recently released the results of their work in an article published in Nature. The essence of the article is that the group of scientists have discovered a new way of creating synthetic speech that has great potential for helping those who are unable to talk due to physical disabilities like stroke or problems like autism. Much of the prior work in the field has focused on trying to take brain waves and translate them into words.  The new research took a different tact.  The team focused on the physical movements related to speech instead of sounds created by speech. By conducting an analysis on the intended movements of the tongue, larynx and other speech-creating mechanisms we humans use, the computer was able to reproduce voice sounds more reliably. It’s a fascinating development.  Using this information, the team created a computer program that simulates the movements of a vocal tract by homing in on the brain's speech centers. Look at an example of this type of speech modeling. You can see the connection between the intended spoken words, and the way those words are formed by the different parts of the vocal tract. Edward Chang, Ph.D., one of the lead co-authors for the project noted that the technology would allow for the fact that, “…a speech decoder that's trained in one person with intact speech could maybe someday act as a starting point for someone who has speech disability who could then learn to control the simulated vocal tract using their own brain activity." Amazing!!  Given the pace of discovery, let’s hope that this germinal idea comes to fruition sooner rather than later. 

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