Mind Reading

Let’s stay with the stroke / medical science / sci-fi Venn diagram this week, after last week’s Night of the Living Pigs.

'Medical science? Wait, what?!'

In the endless battle against FAKE NEWS!!! Aunty Beeb trailed a story last week about how computers can read our minds now.

[I’m sensing… you want some more whimsy and a soundtrack from the Apoplexy Newsletter]

Their story – you guessed it – quickly backed off from that claim. Nevertheless, the real story as reported in National Geographic was no less amazing.

[Researchers] hope to help people who have been robbed of their ability to speak by conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis / motor neurone disease and strokes.

NAtional geographic, APRIL 24, 2019

It turns out that the science that led to the promise of this awesomeness isn’t so different from the tests that I was undergoing at the end of last year.

Y’see, patients… were already being monitored for epileptic seizures, with stamp-size arrays of electrodes placed directly on the surfaces of their brains. OK then, a bit more invasive than my home telemetry test. But anyway –

as the participants read off hundreds of sentences—some from classic children’s stories such as Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland—the electrodes monitored slight fluctuations in the brain’s voltage, which computer models learned to correlate with their speech.

You'll laugh, you'll cry. Occasionally at the right moments.
Did someone say ‘classic story’?

Computer models connected these variations with a complex simulation of a vocal tract in order to effect a translation into synthesised speech. As Christian Herff, a postdoctoral researcher who studies similar brain-activity-to-speech methods, observes, it’s a very, very elegant approach, and I commend the whole article to you.

Here’s my favourite line:

Researchers also stress that these systems do not equate to mind-reading: The studies monitored only the brain regions that orchestrate the vocal tract’s movements during conscious speech.

emphasis added
Srzly. My eyes are doing this every day with these people.
So your testimony is that
‘Computers can read our minds now’?

Sure, Your Honour, let’s go with that.

NEXT WEEK, how we go from speech synthesis to this –

Greta Thunberg v.2.0. You go, Greta!
Don’t have nightmares!
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3 thoughts on “Mind Reading

  1. “Computer models connected these variations with a complex simulation of a complex simulation of a vocal tract in order to effect a translation into synthesised speech.”

    I’m guessing that’s how Radiohead made Fitter Happier. They just hooked up a computer to Thom Yorke while he was sleeping, and captured the best phrases from his weird dreams.

    Speaking of whom… I gotta find the time to watch this entire video. In Rainbows is their most underrated album, overshadowed by the “pay what you want” pricing policy when it was launched. Song for song, it’s definitely better than Kid A.


    1. You’ll give Jonny ideas. I saw a pal do a one-person show about sleep the other day that included the fact that we have, on average, 4-5 dreams a night, even if we aren’t aware of them. I feel cheated. But, to the matter at hand…

      You’ve got a strong case there, although The National Anthem live doesn’t tolerate arguments. I quite like the theory of there being one utterly astonishing album to be sequenced from the Kid A/Insomniac sessions. And I’m fond of A Moon Shaped Pool – as I remember Long-Suffering Reader of the Blog Paul was when it came out. I wonder how it’s aged for him. Maybe I’m a sucker for a divorce/break-up album: Shoot Out The Lights, Rumours, Tunnel of Love, The Visitors, the first, incomplete draft of Stroke with the horribly-misjudged narrative voice…

      Now you’ve got me thinking I want Danger Mouse to do his Grey Album thing with In Rainbows, for some reason. I suppose to keep the punnish approach, it would have to be a mash-up with Mariah Carey’s Rainbow. Or Kesha’s Rainbow. Or Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’s Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.

  2. “I quite like the theory of there being one utterly astonishing album to be sequenced from the Kid A/Insomniac sessions.”

    Agree 100 percent. I burned this playlist to a CD about 15 years ago and still play it regularly. I call it Kid Amnesiac:

    1. Everything In Its Right Place
    2. The National Anthem
    3. I Might Be Wrong
    4. Knives Out
    5. How to Disappear Completely
    6. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box
    7. Optimistic
    8. Pyramid Song
    9. Idioteque
    10. Morning Bell

    Also, there’s no need for a Danger Mouse mashup with In Rainbows. It was created as a mashup… with OK Computer!


    (go to #8 on the cracked.com list)

    Unfortunately, the Puddlegum web site is dead, so the original article is not easy to find. But plenty of people have created the mashup online.

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