Study: AI Allows Paralyzed Woman to 'Speak' Again

    Study: AI Allows Paralyzed Woman to 'Speak' Again
    Last updated Aug 24, 2023
    Image credit: Unsplash


    • According to a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, a severely paralyzed woman has been able to speak through a digital avatar using a brain-computer interface.
    • The woman, Ann Johnson, 48, suffered a brainstem stroke when she was 30, leaving her severely paralyzed and unable to speak.
    • A team of researchers at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley implanted a paper-thin rectangle of 253 electrodes over the region of Ann's brain critical for speech. They then connected the electrodes to computers via a cable.
    • After implantation, Ann trained the system's AI algorithm to detect her brain signals for at least 39 speech sounds. A ChatGPT-style language model was then used to translate the signals into sentences.
    • The team then created a digital avatar that used a synthesized version of her voice before the injury to speak her audible words. It even allowed Ann to express emotions including happiness, sadness, and surprise.
    • While the technology helped Ann speak again, it decoded words incorrectly 28% of the time in a test run involving more than 500 phrases. Additionally, it generated brain-to-text at 78 words per minute, lower than the natural speech rate between 110 and 150 words.


    Narrative A

    Artificial intelligence helping two paralyzed people communicate audibly in close to real-time is nothing short of a miracle. Although it's a scientific proof of concept, turning the technology into a wireless medical device can bring us much closer to making AI a natural solution for paralyzed patients to speak and express clearly.

    Narrative B

    Experiments that use electrodes to read brain signals date back to the late 1990s, but the research and its implementation in everyday life have yet to make strides. As a crucial next step is to create the brain-computer interface's wireless version that would most likely be implanted beneath the skull — potentially raising privacy issues — it's too early to imagine a future where we could restore fluent and accurate conversation to paralyzed people.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 50% chance that Neuralink will first implant a brain-machine interface device in a living human by December 2024, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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