A new device developed by a research team at UC Berkeley is able to produce mechanical speech using only the thought of the word being produced from the subject. The researchers hope that this device will enable patients suffering from conditions that limit or prohibit spoken communication, such as the effects from a stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease, to be able to communicate normally.

The researchers placed electrodes on the surface of the subjects’ brains in the region associated with language, then recorded the electrical patterns their brains produced when perceiving spoken speech. This information was then applied to a computer model that sorted out which patterns belonged to which sounds, creating maps of the subjects’ perceived speech patterns.

These maps were then used to decode thought patterns made later from the subjects, so that when they simply thought of a given word, the computer would pick up on those signals, and synthesize the word electronically. "We applied a temporal realignment procedure that improved our accuracy in classifying words that are spoken or imagined. Our work showed us it is possible to capture the brain signals that represented an intended word," explains professor Robert Knight, head of the research team.

The process is cumbersome at the moment, but the research team hopes to be able to miniaturize the equipment, using wireless neural implants as a prosthetic device that can allow a subject to go about their daily life, with their power of speech fully restored.