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Scientists can predict bird calls based on brain signals

Building on previous research which used the bodies and brains of zebra finches as a proxy for humans, scientists say they can now predict a bird’s song by reading its brain signals. Silicone chips are implanted into the brains of small male zebra finches, common pet store birds. Using data from the chips, the scientists can predict bird calls.

“Our work sets the stage for this larger goal,” explained study lead author and PhD candidate Daril Brown. “We’re studying birdsong in a way that will help us get one step closer to engineering a brain machine interface for vocalization and communication.”

“Our motivation for exploring local field potentials was that most of the complementary human work for speech prostheses development has focused on these types of signals,” said Vikash Gilja, who led the collaborative research.

“In this paper, we show that there are many similarities in this type of signaling between the zebra finch and humans, as well as other primates. With these signals we can start to decode the brain’s intent to generate speech.”

“These forms of variation are important for us to test hypothetical speech prostheses, because a human doesn’t just repeat one sentence over and over again.”

“It’s exciting that we found parallels in the brain signals that are being recorded and documented in human physiology studies to our study in songbirds.”

As of now, the technology reveals the vocalization that a bird will make before it sings. According to researcher Timothy Gentner, this is a stepping stone to a bigger breakthrough.

“In the longer term, we want to use the detailed knowledge we are gaining from the songbird brain to develop a communication prosthesis that can improve the quality of life for humans suffering a variety of illnesses and disorders,”

The research is published in the journal PLos Computational Biology.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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