Have you ever wished you could simply think a command and your computer would respond? That’s the future envisioned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers who created AlterEgo, a wearable system that allows you to converse with a computer without using your voice or movement. According to a video on the project from MIT Media Lab, the ultimate goal of AlterEgo is “to combine humans and computers.”

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A computing system and wearable device comprise AlterEgo, a futuristic project led by graduate student Arnav Kapur of the Fluid Interfaces group at MIT. Electrodes, a machine learning system, and bone-conduction headphones help get the job done: the electrodes “pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalizations — saying words ‘in your head’ — but are undetectable to the human eye,” according to a MIT News statement. A machine learning system, trained to correspond certain signals with words, receives the signals. The bone-conduction headphones “transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear.”

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The video on AlterEgo shows Kapur experimenting with the device, asking for the time or adding up prices in a grocery store without ever saying a word out loud. While the commands he gives are simple, typically involving a single word or number, the video feels like a scene right out of science fiction.

MIT professor Pattie Maes, who is Kapur’s thesis advisor, said in MIT’s statement, “We basically can’t live without our cell phones, our digital devices. But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive. If I want to look something up that’s relevant to a conversation I’m having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I’m with to the phone itself.” Part of the goal for a project like AlterEgo is to allow users to stay in the moment.

In a usability study with the prototype wearable interface, the system’s average transcription accuracy was around 92 percent, according to MIT News. Kapur, along with Maes and undergraduate student Shreyas Kapur, wrote a paper on AlterEgo and presented it at the Association for Computing Machinery‘s ACM Intelligent User Interface conference, which took place last month in Tokyo, Japan.

+ MIT News

Image via Lorrie Lejeune/MIT