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As I sit at my desk, writing about five things you shouldn’t do if you want your home loan approved, I think to myself, “What if I could just think instead of type, and have my thoughts magically appear on the screen?”
My boss – awakening me to the realisation that I was thinking aloud – immediately replied, “You can!”
The device that types as you think
At first, I thought maybe this was just another human charger situation, a product thriving off the laziness of consumers that has more of a placebo effect than any real substance, but I was wrong.
Introducing AlterEgo, a peripheral neural device that reads facial muscles, using electrodes attached to the skin, to detect slight neuromuscular signals that occur when a person is thinking or reading silently, and translate them into words on a screen.
Yes, that sounded like a bunch of complicated scientific jargon to me too, so let’s translate it.
What does peripheral neural even mean?
Neural, which I have wrongly assumed for as long as I can remember was the study of the brain, is actually the term used when something relates to or affects a nerve or the nervous system.
Peripheral by definition means outside of the centre, just like when we refer to peripheral vision. The reason that’s relevant is because peripheral neural refers to the “outside of centre” nervous system in your body:
There are two primary nervous systems in the body:
CNS (Yellow) – the Central Nervous System is made up of your brain and your spinal cord
PNS (Blue) – the Peripheral Nervous System is the portion of the nervous system outside of the CNS, with nerves that travel around the body.
So, the translation?
Without the complicated science, a peripheral neural device is a device that communicates using the nerves that are not in your brain, or in your spine.
Next, what are neuromuscular signals?
Now we understand what neural means, neuromuscular can be decoded. It has to be something to do with nerve signals to the muscles, right?
Well, as science would have it that’s basically the point, but it’s a little more complicated.
First, we need to understand that a neuromuscular signal occurs in what scientists call a neuromuscular junction. That is, a place where the motor neuron (a nerve cell in the brain or spinal cord) comes into contact with a muscle fiber.
At this junction, the nerves can communicate signals to the muscles.
How does the AlterEgo device work?
MIT Media Lab explains that the device allows “humans to converse in natural language with machines, artificial intelligence assistants, services, and other people without any voice—without opening their mouth, and without externally observable movements.”
“The feedback to the user is given through audio, via bone conduction.”
“This enables a human-computer interaction that is subjectively experienced as completely internal to the human user—like speaking to one’s self.”
What is bone conduction?
Bone conduction is a technology that transmits sound waves via the natural vibrations of human bone. It is most often implemented in devices that transmit sound to the inner ear via the bones of the skull.
The technology was originally discovered by Ludwig van Beethoven, who was almost deaf and found a way to hear music through his jawbone. He did this by clenching his teeth on a rod attached to his piano.
Now, the technology is used in hearing aids, in underwater diving and in the latest high tech headphones around the world.
So, in plain English, what does the AlterEgo actually do?
Here’s a step by step breakdown:
You attach the device to your head, which connects with your jaw bone muscle fibers.
You think the words you want to say, and your brain signals the nerves i the outer system to tell the muscles in your jaw to move slightly, as if you were talking.
The electrodes in the device pick up on those signals and communicate them back to the AÍ device or computer system, which types them on the screen.
If you’re still a bit confused, here’s a video from the MIT Media Lab may help:
Want me to translate another science or economics topic you’re struggling with?
I’d love for you to let me know in the comments.