Trend Alert: AlterEgo

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Have you ever really felt like ordering a pizza, but been too tired or lazy to make a phone call or go online? This feeling could soon be a thing of the past, as one young scientist has developed a way to get a pizza delivered just by thinking of it.

Voice recognition software is increasingly popular and effective, but it could be replaced by another method of communication that requires even less effort. AlterEgo is a project by MIT grad student Arnav Kapur. When he attaches the device to his head, he can think of a message and see it produced on a screen with 92% accuracy. Although it might seem like AlterEgo is reading his mind, that’s not actually true. It works by detecting small movements in his facial and neck muscles, the same which are made when we read silently or talk to ourselves.

The device can also send messages to the user via bone vibrations, which means it can be used to make internet search queries, or have a conversation with another AlterEgo wearer that is inaudible to anyone else in the room. If you’ve ever imagined having the internet in your brain, this is pretty much it.

In a recent interview with US TV series 60 Minutes, Arnav demonstrated the technology by using it to order a pepperoni pizza, but it does also have more practical uses. It can empower people with speech problems, help people communicate without disturbing others, and appeal to those who find talking to Siri or Alexa in public too embarrassing.  The goal of Arnav’s work is to find ways to use AI to augment human cognition and ability, so we can benefit from the skills of robots, rather than being replaced by them. Nonetheless, he admits that wearing the advice does make him feel a bit like a cyborg.

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