There’s always been a glaring issue with voice computing: Talking to a voice assistant with other people around makes you feel like a bit of a weirdo. It’s a big part of the reason we’ve been seeing the technology start to take off in the home, where people feel a little less self-conscious talking to their machines.
The advent of some sort of nonverbal device that gets the job done in a similar way, but without the talking, is a kind of inevitability. A team at MIT has been working on just such a device, though the hardware design, admittedly, doesn’t go too far toward removing that whole self-consciousness bit from the equation.
AlterEgo is a headmounted — or, more properly, jaw-mounted — device that’s capable of reading neuromuscular signals through built-in electrodes. The hardware, as MIT puts it, is capable of reading “words in your head.”
“The motivation for this was to build an IA device — an intelligence-augmentation device,” grad student Arnav Kapur said in a release tied to the news. “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?”
The school tested the device on 10 subjects, who essentially trained the product to read their own neurophysiology. Once calibrated, the research team says it was able to get around 92 percent accuracy for commands — which, honestly, doesn’t seem too far off from the accuracy of voice commands for the assistants I’ve used.
The potential for such a device seems clear from a consumer standpoint — once you get past the creepiness of the whole reading words in your head bit. And the fact that it looks like a piece of medieval orthodontic equipment. The team also added bone conduction for audio playback to keep the system fully silent, an element that could potentially make it useful for special ops.