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How to Communicate Without Speaking

By Katie Lee on 2018-10-18

Researchers at MIT have recently created a headset that allows for communication without the need for talking.

Think back to those times when someone has sarcastically said, “it’s not like I can read minds.” Now imagine the possibility of actually being able to read minds. Think about how much easier it would be to communicate thoughts. Well researchers at MIT have created a headset that allows for communication without speaking.

The headset does not actually allow people to read minds but it does vocalize words the user silently vocalize. Essentially, a user would internally say something and the headset would say the same thing aloud.

The headset is simply a device that runs from the users ear to their jaw. Internally, however, it is a bit more complicated. The internal computing device contains electrodes that interpret muscle movements in the jaw, tongue and lower face in general. These muscle movements are created when a person mimics the movements of saying words but either cannot or does not want to actually say them.

For example, if a person was mute, they could act like they were saying something and the machine would then interpret their neuromuscular facial movements and vocalize them to another headset allowing others to hear what they are trying to convey without the use of conventional bluetooth headsets which people who are unable to speak could not use in the first place.

But, how does the device know exactly what movements are associated with certain letters or words? The device has actually, through machine learning, practiced associating the different movements through hands on learning.

The headset is also advanced in the sense that it contains bone conductors. This may sound scary but, in reality, it just means that it transmits sound by passing vibrations into the users bones.This both allows the sound to be transmitted effectively but it also does not disturb what the listening user is hearing in the moment. So if someone was in a meeting, it would allow them to listen to the meeting but also to listen to the headset.

Arnav Kapur, the lead researcher of the device, told of the machines intentions, “Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?”

Possible uses for this machine are for those places where silence is important like libraries or for situations when you cannot disturb others who are speaking or concentrating like during a meeting or a chess match. It could also be ideal for police officers or agents who require secrecy and cannot afford to reveal their conversations. Further, the device would be perfect for people who cannot speak as they could communicate with others.

A possible drawback of the device could be that it may misinterpret what someone is trying to say especially if they have an accent and/or tend to say letters abnormally. This problem could, however, be easily solved by having the user calibrate the device to the way they speak prior to use.

Currently, the device is being tested by 15 lucky volunteers who, in so far, have reported a 92% success rate for the transcription. This is a promising start for the device which could easily become the new trend in a few years.

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