According to a recent patent filing, Google-owned Motorola Mobility has created an electronic smart tattoo that can recognize unvocalized words in your throat. The new input device would allow for silent communication with connected technology opening up a wide-range of future possibilities.
The concept isn’t as far-fetched as it may appear. The electronic tattoo is a collection of sensors and detectors that is placed over your vocal cords, which will intercept subtle or inaudible voice commands. This "smart skin" may even be able to recognize voice commands that are not meant to form words, but to fill the space of an internal voice or whisperings.
The process behind the inner voice has been known for decades. Researchers have recorded neural spikes of activity sent to the vocal apparatus, which are similar to signals sent when actually speaking aloud. The difference between the two types of signals is that the inner voice is subthreshold and does not generate full muscle activity. The process is very similar to metal activities like imagining to throw a football or kick a soccer ball: as you imagine that you are performing the activity, many of the same signals are sent to your musculature, but unamplified. To be put another way, thoughts are intentions to your brain.
The Motorola Mobility patent describes the picking up of an auditory signal from the e-tattoo, and converting it into a digital signal. The signals from the brain, carried by spikes on the hundreds of nerve fibers, are already digital. These bear no resemblance to an auditory signal at this point. After transformation in the muscles that control speech, there is still no single signal that is recognizable as speech. To combat this accumulation of gathered signals, built-in electrodes would not pick up individual spikes so to speak, but should generate electrical records of muscle activity, and compound nerve potentials.
Certainly, covert activation of mobile devices in a crowd would be a nice feature. Instead of speaking to Siri or Google Now, you could merely think your voice command. Detecting stress and other emotion changes could have some applications as well, although who would want their mobile device recognizing how much they dislike a co-worker. The opportunities for this new technology are vast, for both good and bad applications. This is definitely a patent we all should keep an eye on.