Turning thoughts to text with brain implants and artificial intelligence

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For people with limited use of their limbs, speech recognition can be critical for their ability to operate a computer….

We’ve been able to recognize speech in the brain for a decade, but the accuracy and speed of this process are quite low. Now, some researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are suggesting that the problem might be that we weren’t thinking about the challenge in terms of the big-picture process of speaking. And they have a brain-to-speech system to back them up.

Typically, these systems process written text into an intermediate form and then extract meaning from that to identify what the words are. The researchers recognized that the intermediate form doesn’t necessarily have to be the result of processing text. Instead, they decided to derive it by processing neural activity.

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In this case, they had access to four individuals who had electrodes implanted to monitor for seizures, and those electrodes happened to be located in parts of the brain involved in speech. The participants were asked to read a set of 50 sentences.

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For two of the participants, after the system had gone through the full training set, its word error rate was below eight percent, which is comparable to the error rate of human translators.

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