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Michael Callahan shows of the Audeo speech digitizer at the Texas Instruments convention. The device creates speech from nerve signals to your vocal cords, without you having to make a sound; and it fits snuggly with a suitcoat.  (Source: New Scientist)
It's not psychic, it's science; tapping into the inner voice of the human mind may be getting a lot closer than some think

With OCZ, Emotiv, and NeuroSky all releasing "brain mice" for consumer consumption, 2008 seems to be the year of brain control.  Furthering the theme, new groundbreaking research has been carried out in which an electronic "nerve tapper" reads signals to vocal cords and digitally voices the user's thoughts without a single word uttered by the user.

Ambient Corporation, an electronics startup, developed the device called the Audeo, recently showcased at a Texas Instruments conference.  The Audeo takes advantage of the fact that you can mentally picture voicing words, sending signals to your vocal cords, without physically voicing the word.  With training, a person can send these signals with ease.  These soundless signals are then picked up by Ambient's neckband which scans the vocal cord nerves.  The device wirelessly transmits the results to a computer, which processes them and yields digitized speech.

The Audeo does not vocalize all your thoughts, which a relief to some people who might fear it would reveal their fantasies or sarcastic observations.  It only vocalizes thoughts you concentrate on sending to your vocal cords.  The Audeo was used at the conference to carry out a telephone conversation.  It can also be used to control wheelchairs, through intuitively "voiced" directional commands.  This ability, which could help disabled people, was demonstrated earlier.

Ambient co-founder, Michael Callahan, discusses how the device requires a "a level above thinking" to activate, explaining, "I can still talk verbally at the same time.  We can differentiate between when you want to talk silently, and when you want to talk out loud."

Such a feature could be used to help people make private calls in public location.  Callahan likens the device, which is still in a rather primitive state to early speech recognition software.  The Audeo currently recognizes only 150 words and phrases.  At the end of the year Ambient plans to release a new version, which recognizes phonemes, the components of words, allowing it to do away with the word limit.  Input to the new version will be slow as users will have to mentally voice each phoneme, and it won't sound like natural speech. 

Still it may be very helpful for people who can't speak due to muscle or neurological conditions such as ALS, also known as motor neurone disease.   It could also be used for translation purposes -- imagine having a fluid soundless translation, without ever voicing your native tongue.

While the device in its current state offers up no threat of someone reading your thoughts against your will, the device does lead to the occasional paranoid pondering on how long it will take for full fledged mind-reading devices are employed by intelligence agencies worldwide. The future of mind controlled electronics is sure to lead to these and many other tough issues.




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