You are currently viewing Scientists learned how to listen to the music that plays in people’s heads

Technologies for reading other people’s thoughts already exist – electrodes can be implanted in a person’s head and the words arising in their mind can be recognized by brain activity. Such systems can be used to restore the speech of people who have suffered a stroke, as well as for mental control of computers and other equipment. The technology exists, but at the moment it is far from ideal – for example, the speech of people with such implants is reproduced as something unnatural and robotic. Recently, American scientists have made a big step towards improving this system. With the help of brain implants, they were able to listen to the music that sounded in the heads of more than 20 people. This opens up great possibilities for humanity.


Is it possible to read a person’s thoughts?

The Guardian recently reported about the experiment and its results. Neurologist Robert Knight and his colleagues from New York University gave 29 patients to listen to the song “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd for about 3 minutes. During surgery for epilepsy, electrodes were implanted directly into the brains of these people to monitor brain activity. While listening to the song, they alternately activated different areas of the brain, and the scientists recorded it all.


Scientists were able to reproduce the music that played in people’s heads

The collected data was analyzed by artificial intelligence – it was able to determine what brain activity is responsible for each sound in the song. After that, the scientists turned the brain signals into sound, and on the resulting recording, they clearly heard the rhythm, melody, and even some of the words of the song. They admitted that at the moment the sound quality leaves much to be desired and the music sounds like it is underwater. But, to date, this is the best result and they already know how to improve it.

According to Robert Knight, the quality of sound can be significantly improved by implanting electrodes with a higher density into the human brain. In this experiment, most volunteers received implants with a distance between the electrodes of about 5 millimeters. But two people had electrodes located in 3 millimeters, and it was possible to restore the music played in their head to a higher quality. Ideally, in the future, scientists want to use electrodes with a distance of about 1.5 millimeters. They also hope to simply place the sensors on the scalp without surgery.


Writing music with the power of thoughts

To decipher the words in people’s thoughts in previous experiments, scientists analyzed the activity of the speech motor cortex of the brain – the area that controls the tiny movements of the muscles of the lips, jaw, tongue and larynx. In the new experiment, the researchers read the activity of auditory brain regions that process the sounds heard. In the study, they learned that the right hemisphere of the brain understands music better than the left hemisphere.


You can tell what a person is going to be about by brain activity


Researchers believe that the music reading technology will firstly be able to make the reproduction of speech of people after a stroke more natural. The technology will also make life much easier for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that affected the English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018.

“ Music by its very nature is very emotional – it has rhythm, accent, emphasis and intonation. It contains a much wider range of features than the limited phonemes of any language, so the technology can greatly improve the restored speech of patients,”

The authors of the research paper shared.

If the technology is developed further, people will be able to compose music with their thoughts. Of course, it is unlikely that in the next hundred years, it will come to the creation of full-fledged compositions. But we can already imagine that musicians save “drafts” of future songs that appeared in their heads. It all sounds like something out of science fiction, but technological progress is clearly slowly but surely moving in that direction.

But there’s a chance that only people with an advanced musical ear will be able to create music with their thoughts. Unfortunately, about 4% of the world’s population has amusia – a diagnosed lack of musical hearing.


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