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In this edition of the PLoS Podcast, PLoS Biology Editor Ruchir Shah interviews Brian Pasley and Robert (Bob) Knight from UC Berkeley. Brian is a postdoc in Bob's lab, and Bob is the Director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Center at Berkeley. Along with their collaborators at UCSF, their research team has published a new article in PLoS Biology called “Reconstructing speech from human auditory cortex”. (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001251)
Essentially, they were able to decode activity in the human auditory system in order to guess the words that people were actually listening to. This technique, called “stimulus reconstruction”, has received a lot of media attention, particularly due to sensational claims of mind-reading. But in reality, there are some important practical applications of this type of research for neural prosthetics. For patients that can't speak, for example, being able to reconstruct words that they imagine would allow them to communicate through a new interface.
In this podcast, Brian and Bob discuss how they were able to reconstruct words using activity in a specific region of the human brain called the superior temporal gyrus, or STG. They then discuss the implications for neural prosthetics, and also the potential ethical implications for “mind-reading”.