AlterEgo Headset Reads Your Mind, Translates Thoughts Into Words

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As technology becomes more and more advanced, it seems like the gadgets they’re coming up with these days belong in a science-fiction movie. Now researchers have come up with a device they say can read its user’s thoughts and then transcribe them into words. It’s called the AlterEgo, and it’s made up of a wearable headset with electrodes that attach to the face.

MIT researchers reveal AlterEgo

MIT announced AlterEgo, which was developed by graduate student Arnav Kapur. The headset sits on the head and jaw and contains electrodes that are capable of picking up on neuromuscular signals in the face and jaw. Internal monologues, trigger these signals, which can’t be seen by the human eye, so when you talk to yourself in your head without saying anything aloud, the headset can supposedly interpret what you’re “saying” internally.

AlterEgo utilizes machine learning technology which trains it to connect certain neuromuscular signals with specific words. If that sounds like a space-age idea, you may be surprised that scientists have thought that internal verbalizations are somehow correlated with physical signals since the 19th century and have been researching this correlation since the 1950s.

To develop the technology, the MIT team started by experimenting with neuromuscular signals on the faces of several subjects when they thought the same word series four times. After identifying the most reliable sources of these signals on the face, the researchers wrote computer code to analyze all the data and pin down seven places where electrodes can be placed to pick up these signals. Eventually, they narrowed it down to four electrode locations on the jaw.

In addition to the headset, AlterEgo also has a set of bone-conduction headphones, which the device users to send vibrations through the user’s face into their inner ear. These headphones do not block the user’s ears, so they offer an unobtrusive way to pass information to the user without interfering with anything they’re doing at a particular time.

This could be what Alexa will be like one day

According to the MIT announcement, the device is “part of a complete silent-computing system that lets the user undetectably pose and receive answers to difficult computational problems.” In other words, if you want to know the answer to something, instead of typing the question into your phone or even speaking it aloud, all you have to do is think the question and then wait for your AlterEgo to tell you.

The device could be quite good for cheating at certain things, as MIT used the example of silently reporting the chess moves of an opponent and then silently receiving recommended moves from a computer. Kapur said they wanted to build some kind of “intelligence-augmentation device,” or some kind of “computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine.” The idea behind the device is to make using technology less disruptive to life because users will no longer need to look down at a phone or tablet to look up information.

The technology behind AlterEgo has obvious implications for Amazon’s Alexa or any other digital assistant in use today, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the MIT student came away from this announcement with a big fat check in exchange for his technology.