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In a new study, performed at the University of California, Berkley, researchers scanned various regions of the brain to figure out an image that subjects were imagining.  (Source: Neuron)

The system use probabilistic math to match the results of the scan to a specific image in a database of 6 million images. The approach showed a good level of accuracy, with the images (right column) resembling the target image (left column) in both shape and content, though inherently differing slightly from it. Despite the minor errors, these results represent a major advance in attempts to digitally "read" the mind.  (Source: Neuron)
There's a still a ways to go before full mental snooping is possible, but a new study shows how far we've come

Mind reading, not of the neighborhood "psychic variety", but rather of a digital flavor, is a field characterized both by intense interest and controversy.  Some in government would love to be able to literally see what suspected criminals or terrorists  (or even citizens and soldiers) are thinking.  Other researchers would simply be thrilled at the prospect of being able to fully understand exactly how the human brain stores and process information.  Still others look forward to potential mind-controlled electronics, such as CAD software or automobiles.

At any rate, the art or science of capturing an image from brainwave activity took an important step forward thanks to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.  Researchers at U of C used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to peek at a subject's brain activity and attempt to read their thoughts.

A previous study had looked at using fMRI scans of parts of the brain linked to shape identification to correctly guess the a viewed image from a series of stock images.  Jack Gallant, a University of California, Berkeley neuroscientist who led the current effort, describes this previous work as similar to "the magician's card trick where you pick a card from a deck, and he guesses which card you picked. The magician knows all the cards you could have seen."

The new study expands this approach greatly by also scanning parts of the brain used for general classifications like "person", "car", or "building".  Utilizing Bayesian probabilistic math, researchers armed with a database of over 6 million possible results and the new scans were able to go beyond identification into the realm of reconstruction, coming up with an image corresponding to what the person was thinking of, after an initial calibration to adjust for mental differences.

Describes Professor Gallant, "[In the new study] the card could be a photograph of anything in the universe. The magician has to figure it out without ever seeing it."

The new study is reported in the journal Neuron and was coauthored by Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Thomas Naselaris.

With the current study researchers can get a general idea of what the person is thinking about, but lack the ability to literally draw a picture-perfect scene of the what the subject is visualizing.  This is because imaging techniques such as fMRI lump millions of neurons into single output blocks.  Frank Tong, a Vanderbilt University neuroscientist who evaluated the study describes, "At the finer level, there is a ton of information. We just don't have a way to tap into that without opening the skull and accessing it directly."

Supplementary scanning techniques, though, like optical laser scans or EEG readings could help improve the fidelity of the current information.  Professor Gallant states, "[In a few decades] you could use algorithms like this to decode other things than vision.  In theory, you could analyze internal speech. You could have someone talk to themselves, and have it come out in a machine." (Such devices currently exist, but not by tapping brainwaves... they tap neurons going to the voicebox)

Such thoughts certainly are not without alarming privacy and safety implications.  Still, such issues have seldom been able to hold back the progress of science and it looks like for better or worse, we're heading towards being able to read each others' minds, given the proper (expensive) tools.

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By AnnihilatorX on 9/28/2009 2:25:18 PM , Rating: 3
I propose installing a portable version on every politician or government official making a speech or debate and program each device to flash every time when the wearer is thinking about dollar notes or bags of coins. :)

RE: Great
By Ratinator on 9/28/2009 2:31:39 PM , Rating: 2
How many times does a male think about sex in a day again? I don't think we will be seeing dollar notes or bags of coins as often as certain other images :-)

RE: Great
By kattanna on 9/28/2009 2:40:10 PM , Rating: 5
true.. i could place an empty box on a average males head that displayed an image of boobies and most of the time the machine would be right

RE: Great
By ZmaxDP on 9/28/2009 7:27:04 PM , Rating: 3
Depends, if you put it on a "butt" man then it might be wrong more...

RE: Great
By amanojaku on 9/28/2009 2:47:32 PM , Rating: 5
How many times does a male think about sex in a day again?
Once in a lifetime. It's a background process that terminates with the host.

RE: Great
By AnnihilatorX on 9/28/2009 2:59:44 PM , Rating: 5

RE: Great
By therealnickdanger on 9/28/2009 2:58:49 PM , Rating: 2
What we need is a lie detector that can't be defeated. How about we use the technology to build a za'tarc detector?


RE: Great
By geddarkstorm on 9/28/2009 3:19:21 PM , Rating: 2
How do you know that isn't where this technology came from ;)?


RE: Great
By MrBlastman on 9/28/2009 4:59:11 PM , Rating: 2
Sometimes there are technologies being developed that I would rather not see come to fruition. This is one of them.

The potential for it to be abused and used in ways that invade and threaten our personal freedoms is too great.

RE: Great
By jconan on 9/29/2009 4:32:29 AM , Rating: 2
true this is one of technologies that can similarly be abused like in minority report, but at least the governments can forgo waterboarding and other abuses if this works. Looks like CEOs and CFOs can no longer lie about profits...

RE: Great
By PrinceGaz on 9/29/2009 10:51:18 AM , Rating: 3
You should be safe provided you wear a tinfoil hat at all times as that'll interfere with the magnetic field.

RE: Great
By JediJeb on 9/28/2009 5:05:17 PM , Rating: 2
If it just flashed a light every time the politician lied, we could light the world.

By TETRONG on 9/29/2009 12:47:22 PM , Rating: 1
This entire article is simply misleading propaganda. They've been able to see and hear what people are thinking since the late 70's. When they trickle out information like this to you, it's just so you'll shrug your shoulders and acquiesce when this practice becomes commonplace.

I know, I know - I'm full of shit right?
Just type compromising emanations into your search to get started learning about all of the things you don't know.
Your entire educational system is meant to lead you into nice safe cul-de-sac's. Especially concerning mathematics.

The more you know...

RE: Sure
By gevorg on 9/29/2009 2:22:49 PM , Rating: 2
Please entertain us with some examples on how "they" mislead us with mathematics.

RE: Sure
By stilltrying on 9/29/2009 2:23:46 PM , Rating: 2
You aint kidding. If people only really knew what was out there and what takes place. Ignorance is bliss.

Privacy Concerns?
By manofhorn on 9/28/2009 2:51:39 PM , Rating: 2
It wouldn't be that difficult to disrupt these scanning techniques. A Faraday cage, or a lead helmet... haha. They could make them stylish, I'm sure.

RE: Privacy Concerns?
By TETRONG on 9/29/2009 8:45:54 PM , Rating: 2
Very funny isn't it!
Take note of the date on this patent.
You've been programmed to reflexively ridicule this concept and anything else that doesn't fit with your narrow world-view.

Do you want to remain that way until the very end?

Helmets are not going to help you.

Reading minds and being immortal
By aguilpa1 on 9/28/2009 5:31:30 PM , Rating: 2
I just read another article about how immortality is predicted in 20 years or so. Add mind reading and things for the future are going to be either extremely interesting or scary creepy.

By Shadrack2 on 9/29/2009 10:04:51 AM , Rating: 2
That means we should all have our personal robots and flying cars by next Tuesday.

Hmm one step closer to....
By Smartless on 9/28/2009 3:15:42 PM , Rating: 2
Doctor: What is it that is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken?

Quaid: I give up.

Doctor: You!

Funny part is I've heard the same quote about every failed relationship and what the common factor is.

This is amazing future tech for...
By gevorg on 9/29/2009 1:30:13 AM , Rating: 2
Patriot Act XXVI :)

Reminds me this great quote:

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Benjamin Franklin, 1759

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes

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