AI-Enabled Technology Breathes New Life into Speech for Silent Stroke Victim

NNicholas August 28, 2023 12:47 PM

Ann Johnson, a 30-year-old woman from Saskatchewan who lost her speech due to a brainstem stroke, is now capable of communicating through AI-powered technology. This groundbreaking innovation translates brain signals into speech, offering a beacon of hope for individuals suffering from speech impairments.

Diagnosis with locked-in syndrome

In 2005, a life-altering brainstem stroke left Ann Johnson, a 30-year-old mother of two from Saskatchewan, incapable of speech. She was diagnosed with a grave condition known as locked-in syndrome that caused virtually all her muscles to be paralyzed, sparing only those controlling her eyes. While she has since regained some movement, her ability to speak remains tragically impaired.

AI brings back Ann's voice

In a groundbreaking development, AI-powered technology has given Ann a voice again. Her brain signals are translated into speech, enabling her to communicate interactively. To personalize the experience, researchers have synthesized a voice that closely resembles her own, adding a touch of familiarity to the otherwise mechanical process.

Ann's brain became the prime focus of this technological wonder. Researchers connected a thin grid of electrodes to the surface of her brain, covering the area crucial for speech. This set-up, connected to computers, decodes her brain activity to generate not just text, but also speech and facial expressions, making her communication significantly more comprehensive.

The brain-computer interface (BCI) doesn't intrude into the realm of 'mind-reading.' Instead, it interprets signals from the part of the brain that controls the vocal tract. Thus, the user must actively attempt to speak the words for the interface to work, ensuring it remains a user-driven technology.

Boost in communication speed

The BCI's efficiency is phenomenal - it can decode about 78 words per minute. This is a momentous leap from Ann's prior assistive communication device, which could only manage around 14 words per minute using eye movements. The increase in speed vastly improves the quality and flow of her conversation.

Expanding horizons for speech-impaired

The researchers envision a future where this innovative technology can aid a larger demographic. Their aim is to develop smaller, wireless devices that can assist individuals suffering from speech impairments due to stroke, ALS, or other neurological disorders. This could potentially bring about a revolution in the way we communicate, bridging the gap between those affected and their loved ones.

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