New brain activity studies have offered a previously unimaginable insight into the connections between neurological processes and speech, offering potential hope to those who cannot verbally communicate.
The study, published in Science on Tuesday, December 2nd, displays the findings of three research teams who have been working to unlock the secrets of brain activity. Patients undergoing tumor removal were fitted with surgically placed electrodes (see below), which were placed upon the brain in an attempt to establish the connection between activity and speech.
Participants in the studies were urged to read aloud, or mouth certain words, and the corresponding brain activity was then recorded and analysed.
The team used a form of computational models known as neural networks, to chart and reassemble the patterns into occasionally comprehensible sentences. There were varying degrees of success, but the recordings made of the experiments make for remarkable (if slightly chilling) listening. Clearly identifiable words, phrases and numbers can be made out among more uncertain noises recorded as part of the process.
This isn’t, however, a magical way for scientists to instantly ‘read minds’, but an impressive and encouraging development this particular field of research. As Kelly Servick of Science outlines in her report; ‘None of the efforts, described in papers in recent months on the preprint server bioRxiv, managed to re-create speech that people had merely imagined. Instead, the researchers monitored parts of the brain as people either read aloud, silently mouthed speech, or listened to recordings.’
The findings do, however, hold a great deal of potential with regard to creating a form of communication further down the line, for those who are unable to speak or vocalise their thoughts. Artificial intelligence could hold the key to this, and many other associated areas of mystery.
The field of brain activity research has unearthed many secrets in recent years. In March 2017, Canadian scientists carried out observations on test subjects who had been taken off life support. One subject displayed heightened brain activity for approximately 10 minutes after being declared dead. This raises many implications relating to the distinction between body and brain, the separation of our central nervous system and the rest of our functioning bodies.
“In one patient, single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both the cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP),” – University of Western Ontario in Canada.
One of the primary difficulties in treating Alzheimer’s is that, by the time symptoms have manifested, irreversible damage has already been done to cells in the brain. An early warning, such as this AI development, could change the course of early diagnosis and subsequent treatment.