Special Needs Kids Get A Voice of Their Own
Not being able to communicate is frustrating. It’s especially exasperating for special needs children who can’t speak at all. These kids have plenty to say, but they aren’t able to make themselves understood.
Technology may be able to change that.
Thought translation software is about to give special needs kids who can’t speak a voice of their own. They will be able to articulate what they’re thinking.
Columbia University researchers have developed a thought-to-speech translator that’s already 75% accurate. The algorithm they’re building is still in its infancy. It currently can only extract “thoughts as a person listens to speech, but the researchers plan to see if they can replicate the study while having a person speak or think about speaking — no listening involved.” Called a vocoder, the algorithm analyzes brain waves for specific patterns. Machine learning converts these patterns into speech.
Of course, Columbia University isn’t the only higher ed institution working on this development. Other universities and even Facebook are developing similar programs.
The braintech science behind thought-to-speech communication
The software for converting thought-to-speech is similar to the interfaces used for communicating with Alexa or Siri. Algorithms scan for neural activity in the brain and then translate their findings into speech. Machine learning is making it possible for the algorithms to predict thought process concepts. It’s not quite mind-reading, though. Thought-to-speech communication is based on intention. The “speaker” must first want to say something for the algorithm to respond.
Elon Musk expects that in 2020, his company Neuralink will implant devices that can read brain activity and be able to tell what someone is thinking. Musk predicts that the devices will have all sorts of uses. For example, these brain activity decoders are expected to keep employees, such as truckers and pilots, safe because the artificial intelligence used can predict fatigue even if the person won’t admit it.
The impact for special needs students
For several years, the education community has had access to a variety of tools to help children make their voices heard in school. Apps like Voice4U and Dragon Dictation have made it possible for special needs children to express their feelings and communicate with those around them. The output depended on the input, which usually happened by typing messages. However, the newer technology devices that use thought process prediction will be game-changers for children who haven’t been able to speak at all. They will be able to think it, and the machine will say it.
Advanced technology has always been welcome in special education classrooms. New innovations, like thought-to-speech communication algorithms, provide equitable access in the classroom. Students who would otherwise be left out of a conversation or slowed down by using visual boards to express themselves will be able to express their needs and have instant access to conversations.
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of thought-to-speech communication for special needs kids is that it will empower them. By being able to express themselves, disabled children will find themselves competing with their non-disabled peers in ways never imagined.
Fortunately, the algorithms are already doing the imagining for them.