It's after dark on a warm Monday night in April, and I'm lying face-up in a 13-ton tube at the Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center at the University of California at Berkeley. The room is dimly lit, and I am alone. A white plastic cage covers my face, and a blue computer screen shines brightly into my eyes. I'm here because a neuroscientist named Jack Gallant is about to read my mind. He has given me strict instructions not to move; even the slightest twitch could affect the accuracy of what he's about to do. As I stare straight up, I notice an itch on my thigh. Don't scratch it, I tell myself. I try to keep my thoughts blank as the beeping gets faster and the fMRI machine—the scanner that will detect changes in blood flow in my brain—powers up.
Gallant assures me that the random thoughts in my head will not affect his results. Today he's just concerned with what I see and how that registers in the visual cortex, a region at the back of the brain that processes what my eyes take in. It doesn't matter that I'm thinking about what to eat for dinner, or that I'm worried about getting a parking ticket on Oxford Street. The only important thing, he says, is for me to keep as still as possible, and soon he'll have enough information to re-create the pictures I've been staring at without ever having seen the images himself.
For the past 10 years, Gallant has been running a neuroscience and psychology lab at Berkeley dedicated to brain imaging and vision research. He's one of a few neuroscientists in the world on the verge of unlocking the key to mind reading through brain-pattern analysis using magnetic resonance scans and algorithms. By showing me a series of random photographs and evaluating fMRI readings from my primary visual cortex, Gallant says his technique can reconstruct imagery stored in my brain. His current method takes hours of analysis, but his objective is to hone the technology to the point where it can deduce what people are seeing in real time.
If successful, it could influence the way we do just about everything. Mind-reading machines could help doctors understand the inner worlds of people with hallucinations, cognitive disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and other impairments. Judges could use them to sneak a look into suspects' brains by having them reenact the experience and reading their visions. Such machines could also determine whether someone using the insanity defense is faking it, or whether someone claiming self-defense truly feared for his life. On the flip side, the technology raises serious ethical concerns, with critics worrying that it could one day make our private thoughts vulnerable to snoops and hackers.
I ponder all this as I lie motionless in the brain scanner, staring straight ahead while Gallant and two of his lab researchers flash several dozen photographs in front of my eyes, a few seconds at a time. I see sheep grazing in a meadow, a rock formation, a pond and a profile of a guy who looks like Einstein. I'm not actually supposed to be looking at these pictures—my job is to stare at the white dot in the middle of the screen. "Seeing" doesn't happen entirely in the conscious realm, Gallant explains. The visual cortex works like a camera, automatically absorbing information through the retina and registering the imagery in the brain.
Ten minutes feels like an eternity, but finally the fMRI announces the conclusion of its program with another loud beep. The researchers remove me from my bind and escort me to the control room, where a giant monitor is displaying 30 scanned images of my brain from different angles. I see bunches of white squiggly lines and light gray V shapes inside rows of gray circles. "That's it? That's my brain?" I ask, my head foggy from having tried so hard to stay still. It surprises me that all the goings-on in my mind can be reduced to a bunch of geometric shapes. Gallant tells me that brain activity is basically just a bunch of neurons firing—an estimated 300 million in the primary visual cortex alone, according to the latest research.
To help make sense of the shapes, the brain scanner divides them up into a grid of three-dimensional cube-like structures called volume pixels, or voxels. To me, each voxel looks like a random mix of whites, grays and blacks. But to Gallant's computer model, which can see more-precise data in those shades, the voxels are a meaningful matrix of zeroes and ones. By crunching this matrix, it can transform the shapes back into a remarkably accurate rendering of the Einstein Guy or the grazing sheep. Gallant and his team didn't have time to generate enough scans of my brain to make their algorithm work, but they showed me some convincing results from other volunteers. "It's not perfect," says Shinji Nishimoto, one of Gallant's postdocs, "but we're getting pretty close."
As I leave the lab, my thoughts secure in my head, I feel a bit uneasy knowing that they may not stay that way for long. Gallant's "neural decoding"—a term he prefers to "mind reading"—is getting faster and more sophisticated all the time. In fact, last October, his lab managed to re-create entire video clips just by analyzing the brain patterns of people watching them. In one example, a reconstructed video of an elephant walking through the desert shows a blotchy Dumbo-shaped mass plodding across the screen. The fine details are lost, but the rendering is nonetheless impressive for having been pulled from someone's brain. And it's not just Gallant who's making progress. Using similar technology, other researchers are unlocking memories and dreams.
Beyond the fuzzy realm of the paranormal, mind reading could simply be a question of having the right tools. "As long as we have good measurements of brain activity and good computational models of the brain," Gallant wrote in a supplement to a paper he published in Nature in 2008, "it should be possible in principle to decode the visual content of mental processes like dreams, memory, and imagery."
What's on your Mind?
Remarkably, scientists can predict with near-perfect accuracy the last thing you saw just by analyzing your brain activity. The technique is called neural decoding. To do it, scientists must first scan your brain while you look at thousands of pictures. A computer then analyzes how your brain responds to each image, matching brain activity to various details like shape and color. Over time, the computer establishes a sort of master decoding key that it can later use to identify and reconstruct almost any object you see without the need to analyze the image beforehand.
Interesting, this deserved a spot on the scary technology page more so than that emotional recognition system... an interesting thought: we could all view color in a different way, your red is my green but we both call it red. This type of technology, however, would probably not be able to achieve this.Bbut the thought that the mind could no longer be respected as a person's sanctuary gives me another urge to achieve escape velocity.....
Correction last sentence, obviously *But
and also, I know this isn't mind reader stuff, contrary to the article's very title... still, it's the beginning of a domino effect perhaps
It may not be very far off when games like 20 questions can be reverse engineered to have the subject ask the questions, and the neural net computer adjusts its answers. the other subject whose mind is being read answers, and those answers are fed back into the device as reformulated new questions based on prior learning.
Talk about big brother! Goverments have been looking into this stuff for along time. Nazi germany for one. USA for two. Imagine a goverment that could control the populations thoughts. No more of those pesky elections and angry liberals getting in the way.
Or as is going on now angry conservatives.
Humanism == Liberalism == Progressivism == Naziism == Socialism == Communism == Marxism == (It keeps going back at least to the french revolution, built on the same base of philosophical and anti-theological thought. This is listed in a general reverse chronological order, though there is plenty of overlap) Lots of names, one idea.
But other than that I agree with you. There always is someone wanting to control everyone else because they are just convinced they know better and if only there were no more dissenting opinions we could at last move forward with what they know is the best way, their utopian dream. Scary stuff.
I do not have raw direct access to my bank account. This amounts to oppression to me. No money no life.
imagine if a real bad guy...not just some bank robber...got its hands on this, he/she could do some real damage. but only if it became a smaller more portable size though and not 13 tons, lol
No doubt about it, the human mind is an amazing thing.
that machine needs better graphics
Telepathy is the next step in human evolution. How you think and perceive language now, will change as you understand the fundamental workings of telepathy. Being a part of the link is wonderful. Crime and war along with many other antiquated ideas will be shipped off to the Mental Smithsonian. Truth will become the guardian of the human race.
Or, more like the ultimate interrogation tool. No actually, there's no interrogation involved, just straight up Minority Report.
They want to know what I'm thinking about. Well I'll tell them
women,women,& more women. Waste my tax dollars on that.
I kind of agree with ezap... if you could see what I am thinking, you would want your money back
Very interesting stuff. There could be potential benefits and dangers from this technology. I like to think that good ideas will always win though. This does open the door to what is considered private. I would imagine the 5th amendment would keep someone from being forcibly hooked up to one of these devices to determine their guilt or innocence in such a situation. Wow, the possibilites that this could be used for though. Communication for one. Would people use it something like the Borg did in star trek? Or to increase learning like in the matrix? Or will people having virtual sex from across the world. Lots to consider.
i have no doubt that a mind reading device will eventually appear. but if the technology is too affordable, it can be a problem. and in that case, a blocking device might become more important than the actual mind reading device.
Conductive silicone will make this scary stuff possible because a brain computer interface (BCI) devise made with it will not scar over. The scaring makes current BCI devises stop working. This is old well established stuff based on cat vision BCI devises. That is probably why a cat brain was chosen for super computer simulation. I have a better strategy, but it needs to be vetted.
Innovation can not be stopped specially if it comes to the point where you can read someone's thoughts before it compiled and executed. Up to the date technology is the extraction of human brain so far.
This technology will be more beneficial when dream can be interpreted correctly and conscious will intersect. New era of time and space will open a door for real information. Our brain have the capability to achieve only when hearts and brain are sync and request is sent to the higher sub-conscious.
Scary stuff but, kinda cool.
This is one piece of technology we probably should freeze all research on and maybe even go as far as destroy all examples.
The present powers that run the world simply are not mature enough to handle it.
If I understand correctly, this machine can show you the picture, measure individual response in certain brain area, and then search for the same pastern, when subject is still thinking about it. No worries, machine can only show you what it wants you to see.
To bad, I hoped it can record dreams.
Popci please put this illustration on the T shirt.
Middle illustration: what if the sign said "Stop hammering fish." What would the machine do THEN???
This comment may not be scientific about mind reading but our Govt. and law enforcement do it all the time. Don't believe me? How do you think they arrest terrorist and predators? They arrest them by reading their minds and thoughts. All they need to convict in a court of law is he "intended" to kill someone in another country. He "plotted" and "planned" to blow up a rail line. Aren't all of these words that describe thoughts in one's mind only? To sentence them to a life in prison, they MUST be able to read their minds. Our law enforcers will arrest for "intent" and I know of no way of figuring out how they (law) could do this mind reading, but now after reading this article, they must have it stashed somewhere. Right.
I am slightly suspicious that only opening of eyes is enought to transfer information to brain without active presence of mind. simple example- in lecture hall, if your mind goes somewhere although your ears are open you'll loose your lecture.
At first it seems amazing, but I'm not really sure, I want one of this thing to work someday...
Since the brain is made up of neurons and cells exchanging electronic impulses, it seems possible.
However, detecting and translating the very faint electromagnetic radiation into something useful sounds like a huge challenge.
If they can figure it out, it will probably result in us developing new ways of configuring computers.
Wikipedia will one day actually become the hive of all human knowledge, straight from the minds.
OK when I first read this I thought it was a hoax. Looking at the date of the article, it's not April first. so I guess it's not a hoax.
But the claims do not make any sense. Maybe the claims are just very very very very very over-exagerated!?
Looking up Bayes theorem it doesn't seem to mean what it says in the article.
Lots of articles on the internet about this though. So either it's true or some very good PR.
Either way its a bit tooooo scary for me...
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Excellent read , I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!