Recently, scientists unlocked the code used by neurons in the retina for sending visual data to the brain. This allowed them to create a device that restored almost-normal vision to blind mice. Now, another group of scientists has announced that they have determined the brain’s code for pronouncing vowels, and they believe that their discovery could lead to machines that speak for people who are physically unable to do so.
The research team consisted of scientists from UCLA and the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology.
They studied 11 UCLA epilepsy patients, who had already had electrodes implanted in their brains in order to determine where their seizures were originating. The patients’ neural activity was observed as they vocalized one of five vowels, or syllables containing those vowels.
It was found that two areas of the brain were involved, and in different ways. Neurons in the superior temporal gyrus responded to all five vowels, although at different rates of firing for each vowel. This apparently ties in with the positioning of the tongue within the mouth, which in turn allows the desired vowel sounds to be made.