For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that the brain’s electrical activity can be decoded and used to reconstruct music.
Artificial intelligence has turned the brain’s electrical signals into somewhat garbled classic rock”
“Neuroscientists have reconstructed recognizable audio of a 1979 Pink Floyd song by using machine learning to decode electrical activity in the brains of listeners. As study participants undergoing surgery listened to “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1),” electrodes placed on the surface of the brain captured the activity of regions attuned to the song’s acoustic profile. “
Neuroscientists have worked for decades to decode what people are seeing, hearing or thinking from brain activity alone. In 2012 a team that included the new study’s senior author—cognitive neuroscientist Robert Knight of the University of California, Berkeley—became the first to successfully reconstruct audio recordings of words participants heard while wearing implanted electrodes. Others have since used similar techniques to reproduce recently viewed or imagined pictures from participants’ brain scans, including human faces and landscape photographs. But the recent PLOS Biology paper by Knight and his colleagues is the first to suggest that scientists can eavesdrop on the brain to synthesize music.
“These exciting findings build on previous work to reconstruct plain speech from brain activity,” says Shailee Jain, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the new study. “Now we’re able to really dig into the brain to unearth the sustenance of sound.”
To turn brain activity data into musical sound in the study, the researchers trained an artificial intelligence model to decipher data captured from thousands of electrodes that were attached to the participants as they listened to the Pink Floyd song while undergoing surgery. Why did the team choose Pink Floyd—and specifically “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1),”? “The scientific reason, which we mention in the paper, is that the song is very layered. It brings in complex chords, different instruments and diverse rhythms that make it interesting to analyze,” says Ludovic Bellier, a cognitive neuroscientist and the study’s lead author. “The less scientific reason might be that we just really like Pink Floyd.”
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