Amazon Alexa
A new MIT invention is about to challenge AI assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. Reuters/Rick Wilking

Looks like a new technology is going to give Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and all other digital assistants a run for their money. A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a wearable device that can read its wearer’s mind.

Earlier this week, MIT Media Lab published a YouTube video that introduces a device called AlterEgo. The device is worn around the right ear and it has a tail of some sort that extends all the way to the jaw area. The beauty of the system is it allows the user to converse with it without talking because communication takes place in the mind.

“AlterEgo is a wearable system that allows a user to silently converse with a computing device without any voice or discernible movements — thereby enabling the user to communicate with devices, AI assistants, applications, or other people in a silent, concealed and seamless manner,” MIT described its latest invention.

AlterEgo is easy to use. The wearer transmits his or her inquiries to the device by vocalizing internally and then receives aural output through bone conduction. The team behind its says AlterEgo does not obstruct physical senses and it also doesn’t invade the user’s privacy.

MIT grad student Arnav Kapur describes AlterEgo as an intelligence-augmentation device, so it’s not on the same category as the AI assistant-enabled devices that Apple, Amazon, Google and many others have commercially released. It is built to make human and machine interaction inconspicuous. But then the size of the device now makes it very visible.

“The motivation for this was to build an IA device — an intelligence-augmentation device,” Kapur said. “Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our cognition?”

TechCrunch says there’s a glaring issue with voice computing and it has to do with how users have to voice out their commands to voice assistant-powered machines. After all some people are not really comfortable with the prospect of talking to their devices in the presence of other people or when they are in public.

The issue isn’t as bad in the home setting. Consumers are not as self-conscious when they talk to their smart appliances. Plus, the interaction that takes place in this setting is primarily designed to increase productivity in the house.

When the MIT team tested AlterEgo on 10 subjects, they discovered that the device they created has around 92 percent accuracy. While it’s still far from perfect at this point, the new technology’s potential is already undeniable. It could usher a new era where human and computer interaction happens mainly in the mind.