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Ann suffered a brain injury, she was paralyzed. Today, artificial intelligence helps her communicate

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An American named Ann was only 30 years old when she suffered a stroke and stopped speaking. Years of physiotherapy allowed her to move the muscles of her face – so she could laugh or cry. But the muscles that would have allowed her to speak remained immobile. Now, almost 20 years later, artificial intelligence came to her aid.

At the age of 30, Ann suffered a stroke. She lost the ability to speak and control all the muscles in her body, but remained fully conscious. 18 years after the tragedy – thanks to researchers from the universities of San Francisco and Berkeley – Ann “regained” her voice. Scientists have developed a brain-to-computer communication system that uses artificial intelligence to translate signals sent by a woman’s brain into words.

– It’s a kind of digital speech apparatus that replaces the function lost during the injury. By using nerve impulses that control the organs responsible for speech, we created a connection between the brain and words, says Kaylo Littlejohn from the University of California, Berkeley. Scientists placed an implant consisting of 253 electrodes on the surface of Ann’s brain. It picks up brain signals that, if the stroke hadn’t happened, would have controlled the muscles of the woman’s tongue, jaw, larynx and face. A port has been installed on Ann’s head that connects to the computer via a cable. – Signals from Ann’s brain are sent through the port to the computer. There, the artificial intelligence translates the language of the brain into text, converts it into speech and selects the animation of the avatar. The end result is displayed to Ann and the person she is talking to, explains Kaylo Littlejohn.

Ann Johnson regained her voice after 18 years of stroke and speech loss thanks to technologyUniversity of California, San Francisco

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Weeks of preparation

For the system to work in its current form, Ann had to work with scientists for weeks, repeating various sentences made up of combinations of more than a thousand words. This allowed scientists to determine which parts of the brain are responsible for speech. However, this is not the end of scientific wonders. The band recreated Ann’s voice using a recording of her wedding. “My brain feels weird when it hears my voice. It’s like I’m hearing an old friend. When I had my stroke, my daughter was one year old. It’s like she doesn’t know me. She has no idea what Ann sounds like,” says Ann Johnson.

Until now, Ann had used a device that allowed her to type text on a computer screen using special glasses and head movements. The woman’s family says that a simple exchange took 5 to 7 minutes. Ann communicated at about 14 words per minute. New technology allows her to do this at around 80 words per minute. For comparison – a healthy person speaks about 150 words per minute while talking. “Our goal is to rebuild a full form of communication corresponding to natural conversations with people. Such advances bring us closer to offering this technology as a real help to patients,” explains Dr. Edward Chang, head of neurosurgery at the University of California, San Francisco. Scientists say they have for the first time been able to decode speech and facial expressions from brain signals. The technology created by American researchers still needs to be refined. The next stage will be miniaturization – and then the creation of a wireless system.

Author:Justyna Kazimierczak

Facts about the world TVN24 BiS

Main photo source: Reuters



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