The ability to read people’s minds still belongs to science fiction, but, in fact, neuroscience has already taken tangible steps toward making it a reality.
Here are some of the recent technological advances that allowed researchers to “crack” the human mind.
1. Extracting words directly from the human brain
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, led by Brian Pasley created a computer model capable of decoding activity in the auditory cortex of the human brain and then translating it into words.
The experiment involved 15 patients with epilepsy. Each of them was asked to read the text aloud first, and then silently. After analyzing their brain activity, the researchers developed an algorithm to decode and reconstruct the read words. Then these data were analyzed by a computational model, which accurately reproduced a number of single words.
Of course, this technology is at a very early stage, but the research team hopes that one day it will help patients with neurological disorders regain their ability to speak.
2. Deciphering and reconstructing dreams
Researchers at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan managed to reconstruct the images appearing in the dreams of study participants with 60% accuracy. The study was aimed to find a link between the visual experiences in dreams and data from MRI scans of the sleeping brain.
Volunteers, whose brain activity was monitored as they were sleeping, were woken up and asked to describe what they had seen in their sleep. Their answers and brain scans were organized to a database and then correlated to new scans, obtained when the volunteers were awake and were shown a number of images on a computer.
The aim was to find which parts of their brains were active at that moment. When the study subjects were scanned again during sleep, the researchers were able predict what they were dreaming about 60% of the time.
3. A device that can read your thoughts
Dr. Phillip Low from Stanford University invented a mind-reading device which was successfully tested on British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
The so-called iBrain belongs to the new generation of mobile devices designed to monitor and diagnose neurological disorders, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease that Hawking suffers from.
The device is basically an EEG headset which uses a single channel to monitor and record brainwaves while a person is doing some kind of activity, for example, sleeping or watching TV. Then the brainwaves are read by an algorithm and are transmitted to a computer.
During the tests, Hawking was asked to imagine that he was scrunching his right hand into a ball. As a result, the device managed to read the scientist’s mind and turn his brainwaves into a series of graphical representations.
4. Developing ‘synthetic telepathy’
The research initiated by the U.S. Army is developing the so-called synthetic telepathy technology that would make it possible to create text or voice messages and send them by thought. Just like the above, this idea is based on deciphering electrical activity in the brain using an electroencephalograph.
The first step is to compose a message using “the little voice in our head”. The next is to send it to a particular receiver by thought alone. It is the brain mapping technology that analyzes the sender’s brain activity and finds which word or phrase they are thinking about.
Similar technology has already been used in video games and is currently available in the market. According to Mike D’Zmura from the University of California, who leads the project, an invention like that could revolutionize our daily life, finding applications in mobile communications and gaming.
It was also mentioned that the technology might benefit paralysis and stroke patients; however, since the research is sponsored by the military, we can only guess what its real purposes are and how exactly this technology would be used in practice.
5. A computer that can hear words in your head
Scientists from the University of Washington led by Dr. Eric C Leuthardt built a device that connects people’s brains to a computer and enables it to ‘listen’ to their thoughts.
The technology, which is based on a technique used to identify epilepsy, allowed several patients to move a cursor on a computer screen by thinking of a series of words. However, the problem is that the patients had to undergo a craniotomy in order to have the electrodes placed onto their brains. These electrodes would emit signals, which would then be received and processed by a computer.
As a result of the trials, the study subjects managed to control a cursor speaking words aloud and in their head with 90% accuracy.
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