Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley this year set themselves an audacious new goal: creating a brain-reading device that would allow people to effortlessly send texts with their thoughts.
In April, Elon Musk announced a secretive new brain-interface company called Neuralink. Days later, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that “direct brain interfaces [are] going to, eventually, let you communicate only with your mind.” The company says it has 60 engineers working on the problem.
It’s an ambitious quest—and there are reasons to think it won’t happen anytime soon. But for at least one small, orange-beaked bird, the zebra finch, the dream just became a lot closer to reality.
That’s thanks to some nifty work by Timothy Gentner and his students at the University of California, San Diego, who built a brain-to-tweet interface that figures out the song a finch is going to sing a fraction of a second before it does so.
“We decode realistic synthetic birdsong directly from neural activity,” the scientists announced in a new report published on the website bioRxiv. The team, which includes Argentinian birdsong expert Ezequiel Arneodo, calls the system the first prototype of “a decoder of complex, natural communication signals from neural activity.” A similar approach could fuel advances towards a human thought-to-text interface, the researchers say.