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Unbabel turns brain-to-computer communication into reality


Can you communicate with just your thoughts? Once considered a sci-fi or fantasy trope, brain-to-computer communication is emerging into reality. The latest innovation is Halo, a new interface developed by start-up Unbabel.


As a language translation service provider, Unbabel specializes in A.I. translations for clients around the world. Founder and CEO Vasco Pedro views the new product as a timely reflection of the company’s mission to explore communication methods outside the box.


Halo, named after “halogram,” functions via a wearable device that measures muscle response through (electromyography) E.M.G. technology. Fitted into a flexible sleeve, the device uses a personalized language model (L.L.M.) to measure each user’s nerve stimulations, then correlates these signals into real words in text or audio format on a mobile app.


“The L.L.M. expands what you’re saying. And then I confirm before sending it back. So there’s an interaction with the L.L.M. where I build what I want it to say, and then I get to approve the final message.” — Vasco Pedro, Founder and CEO of Unbabel

During the research and experimentation stage, Unbabel’s innovation team, directed by Paulo Dimas, first considered using electroencephalogram (EEG), which is also used by Elon Musk’s Neuralink, but found that the system may be too noisy and uncomfortable to users. Dimas and his colleagues picked EMG for being less invasive to the human body. The Halo device was developed in collaboration with the Printed Microelectronics Laboratory at the University of Coimbra.


While not the first generative computer system to use EMG, Halo is the first known product to operate an LLM using an EMG system. At present, Halo is not available for purchase. Instead, Unbabel is working with the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon to modify the interface for use by ALS patients.


The implications are huge: in the future, a brain-to-computer system may give voice to non-verbal users, while opening new doors to our understanding of interpersonal communication.


Read also: “Unraveling the musicality of the mind