For many people who are paralyzed and unable to speak, signals of what they'd like to say hide in their brains. No one has been able to decipher those signals directly. But three research teams recently made progress in turning data from electrodes surgically placed on the brain into computer-generated speech. Using computational models known as neural networks, they reconstructed words and sentences that were, in some cases, intelligible to human listeners.
Researchers relied on data from five people with epilepsy. Their network analyzed recordings from the auditory cortex (which is active during both speech and listening) as those patients heard recordings of stories and people naming digits from zero to nine. The computer then reconstructed spoken numbers from neural data alone; when the computer spoke the numbers, a group of listeners named them with 75% accuracy.