This MIT-engineered headset can read your thoughts

You’ve heard all about AI, but what about… IA? Scientists at MIT have engineered a device designed for “intelligence augmentation,” explains lead researcher Arnav Kapur. “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?”

Researchers at the world-renowned institution have invented AlterEgo, a new computer interface that relies on subvocalisation (the silent speech in our heads, as often occurs when reading) to ‘hear’ your thoughts. Looking like a futuristic version of orthodontic headgear, the wearable headset picks up data which is then processed by an internal computing system. The device then outputs a response to the ‘thoughts’ it has comprehended from your head.

But just how does this mind-reading device delve into your unvocalised thoughts? Why, by measuring the neuromuscular signals omitted when you subvocalise, of course! This feat involves using a dual-pronged approach involving system-integrated electrodes and bone-conduction headphones, which process vibration delivered to the bones of your inner ear.

These neuromuscular signals are then transferred to the computing system, which uses neural networks to discern individual words. While it’s not tough to imagine more sinister applications, AlterEgo has thus far been used for pretty harmless, if nerdy, hijinks; think reporting your opponent’s chess moves in order for the computer to silently generate optimum counter moves.

Whilst the device looks a little ungainly at the moment – a sort of bionic jawbone – whittling it down to a smaller, sleeker product shouldn’t take too long. What’s more, it’ll likely have handy applications in the smartphone world, with virtual assistants like Siri set to benefit from a pretty revolutionary, if creepy, overhaul.

In the meantime, we remain sceptical. For all of its benefits (its promo video suggests “augment[ing] human cognition and abilities”), there’s a plethora of spine-chilling applications for this nascent product. I know it’s pretty de rigeur to dub the latest technological developments fodder for the next series of Black Mirror, but there are certainly tabs to be kept on this latest installment from the labs of MIT.

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