Online: Trending Now

Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Director of the National Council for Online Education

Giving a Voice to Thoughts

Online: Trending Now #135

This piece was originally published in Inside Higher Ed on May 23, 2018.

A new technology tool from MIT enables silent communication between human and computer

MIT, once again, has taken a huge step toward further embedding technology into our lives.  In this case, it is giving voice to thoughts, speech to the speechless and opening the door to telepathy.

The technology, named “AlterEgo,” generates digital signals to unvoiced thoughts. One wears a tiny, spare, flexible frame that contains between 4 and 16 tiny electrodes to pick up non-vocalized speech – such as when one reads text or deliberately thinks articulated thoughts. It transforms these brain pulses into digital transmissions.

AlterEgo allows humans – without speaking or typing – to communicate with computers.  Or, as the MIT Media Lab puts it: “AlterEgo is a closed-loop, non-invasive, wearable system that allows humans to converse in high-bandwidth natural language with machines, artificial intelligence assistants, services, and other people without any voice – without opening their mouth, and without externally observable movements – simply by vocalizing internally.”

This technology leapfrogs the keyboard, the mouse and most all other input devices to allow a person to merely think – voice internally without speaking – a thought or a question, and the computer can respond through a bone conduction device. The concept has been around for a century or more. It creates vibrations rather than direct sound waves that are transferred by direct contact with the skin over your jawbone, which in turn conducts vibration to your auditory receptors.

We have seen this technology marketed for some time as modestly priced headphones that do not cover your ear, leaving the ear canal open for open air sound vibrations.

By combining the two technologies – the transmission of non-vocalized speech to a computer and the response transmitted from the computer to silent bone conduction – a kind of silent communication between human and computer takes place. It would seem to be a trivial task from there to output the computer reception from one person to another human and go through the same AlterEgo capture to transmit that person’s response, thereby synthesizing human telepathy!

Is this real?  What does it look like?  MIT has shared an example on YouTube.

What are the potential implications for teaching and learning? As with most technologies, there are both the good aspects and the challenging. To name a few:

Good

  • This can provide assistive technology to those with disabilities related to speech.
  • It can also provide help by mainstreaming bone conduction headphone technologies that are already on the market – offering a quieter, more accessible auditory input.
  • AlterEgo may provide learning opportunities in locations where other technologies just don’t work – such as where keyboards and touchscreens are not practical input devices.
  • And, it harnesses the precision, infinite patience and effectiveness of computer interaction in, for example, working with students.

Concerns

  • Current pedagogies that allow for simple multiple choice, short answer, or related assessments could be circumvented without any obvious detection. One can argue that this may be good rather than a concern, since it may lend fuel to the movement toward more authentic assessments.
  • Taken to the ultimate conclusion, this may put an end to keyboarding and other such physical capture of thoughts in digital format or on paper. Again, this may not be all bad, but could be met with the same resistance as the calculator in the classroom.
  • AlterEgo is one more significant step in merging humans with computers. Perhaps this is inevitable. And, perhaps it is necessary if we humans are to maintain control of the machine.
  • Oh yes, and one might consider the possibility that such technology enables the computer and any networks connected to the computer or monitoring the Bluetooth transmission to eavesdrop on our thoughts.

The pieces are there; the connections have been made. In this case, it may be only a year or two from market.

Are you prepared to leverage this technology in teaching and learning?

Of course, I will continue to track the developments in MOOCs, emerging trends, technologies, pedagogies and practices in continuing and professional higher education and share them with you through Professional, Continuing and Online Education Update blog by UPCEA. You can have the updates sent directly to your email each morning  – no advertising, no spam!

Best,

Ray Schroeder
Director
National Council for Online Education

 

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

Other UPCEA Updates + Blogs

Marketing and Enrollment Management in a Time of Uncertainty

Institutions of higher education are faced with major challenges and have leaned toward many of their professional, continuing and online (PCO) education units to not only assist with bringing traditional teaching faculty into a more aggressive world of online learning, but to also supplement lost revenue and enrollments due to students not returning to campus…

Read More

Racial Justice and the Mission of Professional, Continuing, and Online Education

UPCEA and its members are deeply troubled by the recent senseless killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, and the lives taken before him. Many others have been affected in the wake of these tragedies. This, combined with the health care disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, underscore the systemic racism that…

Read More

UPCEA Signs Letter to Hill on Broadband Access and Infrastructure

Twenty-nine (29) higher education associations and organizations, including UPCEA, joined EDUCAUSE on June 5, 2020, in sending a letter to Congress on significant broadband issues for higher education. The groups asked Congress to consider the needs of economically distressed college students in relation to efforts to bridge the digital divide during COVID-19 pandemic, specifically citing the Supporting Connectivity…

Read More

UPCEA Partners with LX Pathways by iDesign

We’ve partnered to help you increase capacity around instructional design Do you need to increase your team’s capacity around instructional design? Would you like to add instructional design to your skillset? Great news! UPCEA has recently partnered with iDesign to offer even more online professional development through iDesign’s self-paced learning opportunities, LX Pathways. Our partnership…

Read More

Just Released: UPCEA Hallmarks of Excellence in Credential Innovation

Over the past five years UPCEA has published two Hallmarks of Excellence frameworks, first in Online Leadership and then Professional and Continuing Education. These quality frameworks have been endorsed and used by countless organizations and institutions as they evaluate, enhance, and sometimes even build professional, continuing, and online enterprises. Today, I am so pleased to…

Read More

Colleges Show Great Interest in Alternative Credentials But Weak Follow-Through (Campus Technology)

No matter what type of alternative credential students are earning, most institutions don’t retain official information about it. In a recent survey, just a third of institutions (38 percent) that offer alternative credentials said they allow those to be represented on students’ university records. Nearly half (48 percent) said they weren’t in student records; and…

Read More

Whether you need benchmarking studies, or market research for a new program, UPCEA Consulting is the right choice.

We know you. We know the challenges you face and we have the solutions you need. We speak your language and have been serving leaders like you for more than 100 years. UPCEA consultants are current or former continuing and online higher education professionals who are experts in the industry—put our expertise to work for you.


UPCEA is dedicated to advancing quality online learning at the institutional level. UPCEA is uniquely focused on excellence at the highest levels – leadership, administration, strategy – applying a macro lens to the online teaching and learning enterprise. Its engaged members include the stewards of online learning at most of the leading universities in the nation.

We offers a variety of custom research options through a variable pricing model.


Click here to learn more.

The Nation's Top Universities Choose UPCEA Consulting

Informed decisions. Ideas that work. The data you need. Trusted by the top universities in the nation.