A mind-reading machine may no longer be the stuff of science-fiction after researchers discovered a way to translate people’s thoughts into words.

Using sensors attached to the speech centres of the brain, scientists converted brain signals into speech for the first time.

An epileptic patient, who had part of his skull removed for another operation, was fitted with two button-sized grids of 16 tiny electrodes.

The team recorded brain signals as he repeatedly read the words yes, no, hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, hello, goodbye, more and less.

He then said the words back to a computer and the brain signals matched the word 76% to 90% of the time.

The technology could eventually make it possible to read people’s thoughts.

Professor Bradley Greger, a bioengineer at The University of Utah, said his team were beside themselves with excitement when the technology worked.

“It was just one of the moments when everything came together,” he said.

“We have been able to decode spoken words using only signals from the brain with a device that has promise for long-term use in paralysed patients who cannot now speak.

“I would call it ‘brain reading’ and we hope that in two or three years it will be available for use for paralysed patients.”

Prof Greger is confident his team will soon be able to build a voice box that repeats the words a person thinks.

It could work because the same brain signals are believed to be produced when a person thinks a word as when they say it out loud.

Sky News health correspondent Thomas Moore said: “The brain contains millions of neurons that are communicating with each other and with the body.

“Scientists are now able to listen to signals from individual nerve cells in particular regions of the brain.

“The challenge is developing the computer software that can accurately interpret the complex pattern of electronic pulses.

“It’s like learning a new language and, so far, the scientists can only decipher a very basic vocabulary.

“Other researchers are using the same brain-reading technique in the movement-control centre of the brain, with the hope of helping paralysed patients.

“So this new science of neural engineering has huge potential.”

For people who are paralysed, the development offers real hope because often their brains are healthy and produce the same signals as able bodied people, but they do not reach their muscles because of their injuries.

The method needs improvement to work accurately but it may soon be ready for trials on paralysed people with so-called “locked-in” syndrome, the researchers said.

People with the syndrome cannot speak and usually communicate by blinking or moving a hand slightly.

Source: Sky News

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