Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

The zebra finch's vocalizations are similar to human speech, making it a favorite study subject for scientists. Photo: Gil Dekel / Creative Commons

A team of scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have built an interface that can peek into a bird's brain and predict the song it is going to sing "a fraction of a second before it does so," per MIT Technology Review's Antonio Regalado.

Why it matters: The discovery marks the first successful prototype of "a decoder of complex, natural communication signals from neural activity," the team said. They suggest a similar approach could be used to create a way for people to send texts, tweets, and more solely with their minds — an ambition of tech titans like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

Findings from the team's report, published on the website bioRxiv:

  • The team: Timothy Gentner and his students at UCSD, with the help of Argentinian birdsong expert Ezequiel Arneodo, say they've successfully decoded "realistic synthetic birdsong directly from neural activity" of the zebra finch; a small, orange-beaked bird.
  • Their method: The scientists used silicon electrodes in the birds "to measure the electrical chatter of neurons in part of the brain called the sensory-motor nucleus, where 'commands that shape the production of learned song' originate," writes Regalado. Then they trained their machine learning software to match the neuron pattern to the song it produced.
  • The result: The team said the software can predict what the bird will sing roughly 30 milliseconds before it does so.
  • The human connection: Scientists use birdsong — which is complex and learned — as a proxy for human language.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.
4 hours ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

4 hours ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.