Reconstructing Brain Processing in Computer-Based Models

2 Mar

Professor Robert Knight and colleagues (University of California, Berkley) have presented work suggesting that what is heard in the brain when an auditory stimulus is presented, can be replicated or translated, by decoding the electrical wave activity of the brain. The video below presents a situation in which an electronically generated word is played for patients, and computer models matching brain activity to sound components play back the “thoughts”, or what is heard by the patient (two replications of the original stimulus).

This study was published in the Public Library of Sciences Biology journal, and you can read more about it here.

By identifying that the brain codes auditory speech information via complex patterns of electrical activity,  researchers believe that this study may lay the conceptual foundations for later developing a prosthetic device, which could be implanted in the brain of patients who cannot speak, providing a means of communicating imagined speech or thoughts. While such clinical applications are still a long way from being developed, the findings of this study have potentially far reaching implications.

Professor Jan Schnupp (Oxford University) comments on the study: “Neuroscientists have long believed that the brain essentially works by translating aspects of the external world, such as spoken words, into patterns of electrical activity. But proving that this is true by showing that it is possible to translate these activity patterns back into the original sound (or at least a fair approximation of it) is nevertheless a great step forward, and it paves the way to rapid progress toward biomedical applications”.

Professor Robert Knight (from the research team at the University of California, Berkley) expands on the implications of these findings: “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. If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit“.


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