Scientists have discovered how to “read” minds by scanning brain activity and reproducing images of what people are seeing — or even remembering.
Researchers have been able to convert into crude video footage the brain activity stimulated by what a person is watching or recalling.
The breakthrough raises the prospect of significant benefits, such as allowing people who are unable to move or speak to communicate via visualisation of their thoughts; recording people’s dreams; or allowing police to identify criminals by recalling the memories of a witness.
However, it could also herald a new Big Brother era, similar to that envisaged in the Hollywood film Minority Report, in which an individual’s private thoughts can be readily accessed by the authorities.
Jack Gallant and Shinji Nishimoto, two neurologists from the University of California, Berkeley, last year managed to correlate activity in the brain’s visual cortex with static images seen by the person. Last week they went one step further by revealing that it is possible to “decode” signals generated in the brain by moving scenes.
In an experiment which has yet to be peer reviewed, Gallant and Nishimoto, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, scanned the brains of two patients as they watched videos.
A computer programme was used to search for links between the configuration of shapes, colours and movements in the videos, and patterns of activity in the patients’ visual cortex.
It was later fed more than 200 days’ worth of YouTube internet clips and asked to predict which areas of the brain the clips would stimulate if people were watching them.
Finally, the software was used to monitor the two patients’ brains as they watched a new film and to reproduce what they were seeing based on their neural activity alone.
Remarkably, the computer programme was able to display continuous footage of the films they were watching — albeit with blurred images.
In one scene which featured the actor Steve Martin wearing a white shirt, the software recreated his rough shape and white torso but missed other details, such as his facial features.
Another scene, showing a plane flying towards the camera against a city skyline, was less successfully reproduced. The computer recreated the image of the skyline but omitted the plane altogether. …
Big Brother must be salivating if he doesn’t already have something way better from all the secret human experiments he has not been conducting. 😉 The gaming applications could be so cool! How soon until we have a hand held device which we can point at someone and see what they are visualizing? I’d like to record and play back my dreams … or would I?