Neuroscientists have made another important step in “reading” the human mind. A mind-reading device is claimed to convert thoughts into words through monitoring of the brain waves that correspond to the silent speech or the inner dialogue that is constantly taking place in our minds.
The group of researchers, led by Brian Pasley and Robert Knight, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California-Berkeley, were able to “translate” the electrical brain waves or thoughts into words.
Scientists hope that in the future, the new technique, possibly through some specific brain implants and prosthetic devices, will allow patients in coma or with severe speech impairment, provoked by stroke or other disorders, to communicate with those around them.
How It Is Possible to Convert One’s Thoughts into Words
The new achievement is a part of a series of advances in neuroscience, which gradually led to the realization of the dream (or the nightmare) of mind reading. The new study is focused on the auditory cortex and, in particular, on the area where sounds are refined, which allows people to understand what they hear.
Initially, the researchers watched the brain waves of 15 patients while they were hearing several talks. Then they used a computer to sort the chaos of the acoustic/electric impulses and signals in order to find out which sound frequencies of words correspond to which brain signals. Finally, they managed to associate words with specific waves and signals of the brain.
Eventually, the researchers created a computer model (algorithm) that could “hear” the mind and “guess” some and certainly not all of the words that a person said. As the scientists noted, so far, the research is based on sounds (words) that a person actually hears in their environment, which makes it possible to predict what was said.
However, the prediction of completely imaginary conversations that take place in someone’s mind is not as easy but neither impossible. The research team, as they said, have indications that both real and imaginary sounds activate similar brain regions.
The brain seems to break the words it really hears and those of the inner dialog into individual frequencies, typically in the range from 1 to 8.000 Hertz. Thus, according to the researchers, a musician (even a deaf one like Beethoven) can imagine and “hear” a musical piece in their mind.
The technique is at an early stage and there are still many things to improve. A major difficulty is to create a small wireless handheld device, which can be used by a patient in their everyday life. However, the U.S. researchers hope that in a decade, the new method will be widely applicable.
But a major problem remains to be solved. How can a computer program understand which thoughts a person wants to communicate with others and which they want to keep only for themselves? Can you imagine the consequences if a hacker could snoop into every human skull?
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