This Headset Can 'Read Your Mind' And Respond Accordingly

You can make a Google search without saying or typing anything.

Researchers at MIT have developed an innovative piece of technology called AlterEgo that can "read your mind" and respond accordingly. After strapping the new AlterEgo headset on, you can simply think questions like "what time is it" or "what's 20 percent of $19.50," and it'll read you the answer. 

The wearable device works by reading neuromuscular signals your brain sends to your face and jaw. These signals are undetectable to the human eye but occur when we say things in our heads. The signals are then fed through a machine-learning which has been developed to associate certain signals with particular words. 

"The motivation for this was to build an IA device — an intelligence-augmentation device," Arnav Kapur, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab who led the development of AlterEgo, said in a press release. "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?"

AlterEgo also comes with bone-conduction headphones that transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear. This allows the user to receive information without preventing them from hearing the world around them. So, AlterEgo can talk to you while you're talking to someone else without interrupting your conversation.

"We basically can't live without our cellphones, our digital devices," Pattie Maes, a professor of media arts and sciences and Kapur's thesis advisor, said in a press release. "But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive."

"If I want to look something up that's relevant to a conversation I'm having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I'm with to the phone itself," she continued. "So, my students and I have for a very long time been experimenting with new form factors and new types of experience that enable people to still benefit from all the wonderful knowledge and services that these devices give us, but do it in a way that lets them remain in the present."

AlterEgo is still in its very early stages of development, but, in trials involving 10 people, it had an accurate transcription rate of 92 percent. It certainly looks clunky as is, but it does have the potential to do some really exciting things. Not only can it help people accomplish everyday tasks more easily, but it may be able to help people who have disabilities to communicate better

Researchers at MIT are working to improve AlterEgo's performance through training data. The system can only understand very simple communications right now, but they hope to build an application with a more expansive vocabulary. 

"We're in the middle of collecting data, and the results look nice," Kapur said. "I think we'll achieve full conversation some day."

Cover image via Lorrie Lejeune/MIT

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