Your greatest paranoia might be that somewhere, somehow, secret organisations are using invasive mind reading devices to see what’s going on in your head. But that’s nonsense of course, no such devices exist, except in the pages of trashy science fiction novels. Or do they?
Arnav Kapur, a super-smart MIT Media Lab graduate, seems to have created just that; a device that can literally pick up, and act, on words spoken internally, to only yourself. It’s just a prototype at the moment, but it seems like it genuinely works, suggesting that in the near future we will all be communicating without having to even move our mouths.
Is It Really Mind Reading?
Kapur is quick to point out that his device is, in fact, not really reading minds at all. Even the design attests to that; as it is a thin white device attached along the user’s jaw. Kapur explains that the device does not interact with the brain at all, but is instead designed to track unconscious muscle movements and electrical signals that occur in the jaw when dialogue is internalised. So not technically mind reading, but a device that has all the known technical hallmarks of mind reading.
In transmitting audio to the user, the device uses a system that vibrates the bones in the jaw and ear, delivering audio straight to the ear canal. It is a system that is not unheard of, but has never been used in this particular fashion. Most interesting is that the audio system does not use plugs that fit into the ear, and so does not obstruct other sounds. This means that it feels as if no traditional audio input device is being used at all.
AlterEgo in Action
Calling his creation ‘AlterEgo’, Kapur demonstrated how the device works. He ordered a pizza for a 60 Minutes crew, without saying a word, or indicating in any way that something was being done or said. Amazingly, this isn’t even the extent of AlterEgo’s capability, but it would be useful if you were ever unable to talk and very hungry!
Kapur explained that users would be able to communicate with one another, in a fashion that very much resembles telepathy. Words will be sent and received, without anyone in the vicinity hearing a thing, or even suspecting that communication is occurring. It really does appear as if the science fiction future has arrived.
What Will It Be Used For?
Thus far, Kapur and other MIT Students have made only a few simple software applications to work with AlterEgo. So, don’t think that it is yet a fully developed system, or anywhere along the lines of a silent Alexa. The system can provide results to math problems, function in a chess game in a very basic fashion, and transfer internal dialect to another device. This last function, the so-called telepathy function, has been found to be about 92% accurate in testing.
With a bit more work, it seems like AlterEgo could be adapted to do just about anything, from playing at an online casino to letting people order an Uber without saying a word. But the functions could go much further, and be used in a variety of ways that are truly remarkable. For example, AlterEgo would be the perfect companion for those with speech impediments, or voice disorders.
Augmentation Is The Future
In an interview Kapur stated that he wants AlterEgo to bridge the gap between you and ever evolving technology. He spoke about how talk of artificial intelligence and its ever evolving purposes is making people more anxious than ever, and that he aims to remedy the situation. Or at least demonstrate that technology could be the ultimate ally, augmenting instead of replacing people.
Tanzeem Choudhury, a professor at Cornell University, mentioned that she feels the device could be perfect for helping in situations where it might be embarrassing, or traumatising to talk. But for her, the real challenge was finding a way to make the device a bit less intimidating to look at, or seemingly weird to interact with. She specifically mentioned the failed Google Glass, which fell completely flat despite being massively hyped by Google prior to release.
AlterEgo is not as unusual looking as Google Glass, but it is still a rather strange looking contraption and would surely attract a few stares. Assumptions are that modifications will be made before AlterEgo is ever released to the public, and by the time that happens, several other refinements will surely be made too.