Comment: Artificial intelligence turns brain activity into speech

People who have lost the ability to speak after a stroke or disease can use their eyes or make other small movements to control a cursor or select on-screen letters. (Cosmologist Stephen Hawking tensed his cheek to trigger a switch mounted on his glasses.) But if a brain-computer interface could re-create their speech directly, they might regain much more: control over tone and inflection, for example, or the ability to interject in a fast-moving conversation.

Servick, K. (2019). Artificial intelligence turns brain activity into speech. Science.

To be clear, this research doesn’t describe the artificial recreation of imagined speech i.e. the internal speech that each of us hears as part of the personal monologue of our own subjective experiences. Rather, it maps the electrical activity in the areas of the brain that are responsible for the articulation of speech as the participant reads or listens to sounds being played back to them. Nonetheless, it’s an important step for patients who have suffered damage to those areas of the brain responsible for speaking.

I also couldn’t help but get excited about the following; when electrical signals from the brain are converted into digital information (as they would have to be here, in order to do the analysis and speech synthesis) then why not also transmit that digital information over wifi? If it’s possible for me to understand you “thinking about saying words”, instead of using your muscles of articulation to actually say them, how long will it be before you can send those words to me over a wireless connection?

Doctors are burning out because electronic medical records are broken

For all the promise that digital records hold for making the system more efficient—and the very real benefit these records have already brought in areas like preventing medication errors—EMRs aren’t working on the whole. They’re time consuming, prioritize billing codes over patient care, and too often force physicians to focus on digital recordkeeping rather than the patient in front of them.

Source: Minor, L. (2017). Doctors are burning out because electronic medical records are broken.

I’ve read some physicians can spend up to 60% of their day capturing patient information in the EHR. And this isn’t because there’s a lot of information. It’s often down to confusing user interfaces, misguided approaches to security (e.g. having to enter multiple different passwords and a lack of off-site access), and poor design that results in physicians capturing more information than necessary.

There’s interest in using natural language processing to analyse recorded conversation between clinicians and colleagues/patients and while the technology is still unsuitable for mainstream use, it seems likely that it will continue improving until it is.

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