On June 12th, an amazing study was published in the open-access journal Frontiers In Neuroscience about converting thoughts to text. That’s right, scientists were able to take people, open up their skulls, put an electrode sheet on their brains and convert their thoughts to the written word.
Holy shit! Do you realize how much time that would save in creating first drafts of things?!
Before you go and get a flip-top head though, you should know we’re still in the early stages of this research, but at least we know it’s possible. In 2009, a similar experiment was done generating video imagery from a cat’s visual cortex.
Lest you worry too much, the patients in the study were already getting their skulls opened up; in treating severe epilepsy, electrode sheets are used to see which parts of the brain are affected during a seizure. The patient has this surgery done, and then waits in a hospital environment for a seizure to occur.
Researchers at SUNY-Albany realized there was no reason that they couldn’t try experiments while the patients were waiting. With the patients’ consent — they’re scientists, not monsters — the patients read out texts including the Gettysburg Address and (not kidding) Charmed fan-fiction.
While reading, brain activity was concurrently tagged with the different phonemes they were reading at that second using a speech-recognition program. Once the researchers got a baseline, they had the patients think original thoughts and tried to translate them into text. They were successful, as you probably guessed from the fact that this article exists.
There’s been a bit of lower-level brain research that may help pave the way for developing a non-invasive headset. On June 19th, the BBC announced a headset for their iPlayer app allowing viewers to use their thoughts to control on-demand programming. Or, in simpler terms, with this headset, Britons can watch QI whenever they want; though with the amount of QI reruns there, that’s probably the case anyway.
That’s pretty cool, but my favorite example is when Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo (and not the awful comedian who hangs out with Adam Sandler) hacked a Mattel Mindflex toy to control an analog synthesizer.
Perhaps by combining these technologies, the 2025 Apples in Stereo album might be completely brain generated without any of those pesky fingers getting in the way.