The mind-reading AlterEgo headset (almost) promises telepathy with Alexa

mit alterego headset news

Speaking to voice assistants, no matter how helpful they can be, is still not something the majority of us do on a daily basis. Especially in public. But what if you could “speak” to a voice assistant only by thinking about the words you want to say? Considerably less embarrassing. right? That’s the basic concept behind the AlterEgo, a prototype mind-reading wearable designed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

How it works is extremely clever. OK, it doesn’t quite read your mind, but instead it reads something called subvocalization. This is the name given to tiny, almost imperceptible neurological and muscular movements made when we say words to ourselves, inside our head. Sixteen electrodes on the prototype AlterEgo headset sense these changes, and match the signals to data inside a special neural network, and eventually activate whatever task was requested.

The headset also has bone-conducting speakers — which use your skull to transmit sound into your inner ear, rather than actually putting an earbud in the canal — so you remain aware of the outside world while wearing it. At the moment the headset has 16 electrodes, and wraps around the side of the face, with a connection on the jaw and the back of the neck. However, the team has seen similar results from a model with only four electrodes, meaning it could easily become much smaller.

What’s in your head?

What has the AlterEgo been used for so far? The team has conducted various experiments, including playing a game of chess while “telling” the opponent’s moves to the wearable computer, and getting potential return moves spoken back. Cheating, yes; but a clear demonstration of what it can do. Additionally, the device can do simple math. Take a look at the concept video to see other applications.

Lead developer on the project, Arnav Kapur, said the idea behind AlterEgo was to build an internal computing platform that “feels like an internal extension of our own cognition.” Thesis adviser Pattie Maes added the headset could help us all benefit from smartphones and the internet, without being closed off from the world by looking down at a screen, or wearing earbuds. Thad Starner, a Georgia Tech professor, pointed out how helpful “silent speech” would be in situations where voices can’t be heard — people who work in noisy environments for example — and for those, possibly including military personnel, who rely on hand gestures to communicate when sound would give away their position, or even for people who don’t have the ability to speak at all.

For us, internally talking to Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa, and getting the same results as we would with a vocalized sound could change the way people think about these tools. Yes, the AlterEgo would have to shrink in size to become less intrusive — which do you prefer, speaking out loud to your phone, or wearing the AlterEgo — but the potential is exciting.

Currently the AlterEgo is a prototype used for research, and not available to buy; but it’s possible we could see the technology being investigated here in next-generation devices we use as regularly as we do smartphones today.


Wireless charging is convenient, but power over distance remains a challenge

While Qi wireless charging is fast becoming ubiquitous for smartphones, allowing us to juice up our devices by placing them on a pad, the promise of power through the air is still unrealized. We take a look at the current state of play.
Smart Home

Language barrier? Psh. Here's how to make your Google Home an ace translator

You can now use interpreter mode on your Google Home devices. This means, you can use your Google Home device to translate conversations in real-time. Here's how to use interpreter mode.

Short on phone storage? Here's how to delete apps in Android

With everything we tend to use our phones for, it is all too easy to let your Android device get filled up with apps. Time for a clean out? Then check out our simple guide on how to uninstall apps in Android.

Moto G7 vs. Nokia 7.1: The battle for budget smartphone supremacy

If you're hunting for a reasonably priced smartphone, then you should definitely be checking out the latest devices from Nokia and Motorola. We compare the Moto G7 to the Nokia 7.1 to find out how they differ and which is better.
Product Review

Nokia’s 3.1 Plus is an affordable phone that’s crippled by its camera

The Nokia 3.1 Plus is HMD Global’s first smartphone to be sold by a U.S. carrier in-store. It’s only available on Cricket Wireless right now, which underlines its focus on affordability. Should you buy a phone this affordable?

Apple loses battle to use Intel modems in Germany in latest clash with Qualcomm

Apple is following the Federal Trade Commission's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

Exclusive: Take a look at what a next-generation 5G phone will look like

With 5G phones debuting at MWC in mere days, there is discussion about whether they will be clunky bricks that die after a few hours? A reference design from Qualcomm offerrs a glimpse of the future: This is what 5G phones will look like.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Coffee Meets Bagel dating app data may have been breached

Are you planning on using Coffee Meets Bagel to find love on Valentine's Day? If you've been using the app for a while, you'll probably want to change your password -- the company said a data breach may have taken place before May 2018.

Worried about extra data charges? Here's how to check your usage on an iPhone

It's common to get a little nervous about nearing data limits. Keep your peace of mind by checking how much data your iPhone is using. Our guide on how to check data usage on an iPhone helps you stay in control.

North Focals smartglasses discount cuts the price by a massive $400

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in late 2018, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto and has made its first shipment.

New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

Apple has filed a patent for a foldable phone that suggests the company could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Samsung and Huawei. The patent describes a clamshell-style foldable phone with two separate sections.

Xiaomi Mi 9 will be one of the first phones with monster Snapdragon 855 chip

Xiaomi's next major smartphone release will be the Mi 9, and the company hasn't held back in giving us a good look at the phone, revealing the design, the camera, and a stunning color.

Galaxy Watch Active isn't official yet, but you can see it in Samsung's own app

Samsung may be about to resurrect its Sport line of smartwatches under a new name: The Galaxy Watch Sport Active. Leaks and rumors are building our picture of the device at the moment.

Stop buying old tablets, says Samsung, buy the new Galaxy Tab S5e instead

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab S5e -- the E is for Essential -- a reasonably priced tablet that includes many of the features we like from the Tab A 10.5, and the Tab S4. Here's what you need to know.