Turning brain signals into speech

People robbed of the ability to talk due to a stroke or another medical condition may soon have real hope of regaining a voice thanks to technology that harnesses brain activity to produce synthesized speech, researchers say.

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, implanted electrodes into the brains of volunteers and decoded signals in cerebral speech centers to guide a computer-simulated version of their vocal tract – lips, jaw, tongue and larynx – to generate speech through a synthesizer.

This speech was mostly intelligible, though somewhat slurred in parts, raising hope among the researchers that with some improvements a clinically viable device could be developed in the coming years for patients with speech loss.

“We were shocked when we first heard the results – we couldn’t believe our ears. It was incredibly exciting that a lot of the aspects of real speech were present in the output from the synthesizer,” said study co-author and UCSF doctoral student Josh Chartier. “Clearly, there is more work to get this to be more natural and intelligible but we were very impressed by how much can be decoded from brain activity.”

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