Scientists may one day be able to eavesdrop on our thoughts, after a major breakthrough which allowed researchers to decode brain activity.
The finding could eventually allow neuroscientists to “hear” the thoughts of stroke sufferers or other patients who have a functioning mind but are unable to speak.
Researchers from the University of California, in Berkeley, have succeeded in decoding electrical activity in a region of the human auditory system known as the superior temporal gyrus.
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In research published in the PLoS Biology journal today, they explained how they were able to reconstruct words that subjects listened to in normal conversation.
Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UC Berkeley Robert Knight, said the development could benefit thousands of people.
He hoped that one day scientists could reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity.
“This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease and can’t speak,” he said.
The researchers were able to match spoken sounds to the pattern of activity in the brain, allowing them to predict the word a patient was hearing based on electrode recordings.
The finding has raised ethical concerns that the technology might lead to mind reading devices, but researchers said the fears were unjustified.
Jan Schnupp, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, said the patients who took part in the research willingly allowed a large array of electrodes to be placed on their brains.
“No non-invasive brain scanning technique in existence is able to provide the very fine temporal and the spatial resolution needed to make proper mind-reading possible,” she said.
“Perhaps luckily for all those of us who value the privacy of their own thoughts, we can rest assured that our skulls will remain an impenetrable barrier for any would-be technological mind hacker for any foreseeable future.”…