Scientists have programmed a computer to read people’s dreams. They claim their invention, the “dream catche” is 60 percent accurate.
The level of detail is still far from that in the Leonardo DiCaprio film Inception, in which people manipulate people’s dreams and steal their sleeping thoughts.
However, experts have described the work, detailed in the respected journal Science, as “stunning.” They added that just a few years ago such a feat would have been firmly in the realms of Star Trek, at best.
The Japanese scientists began by scanning the brains of three volunteers as they slept in an MRI machine. Every six or seven minutes, they were prodded awake and asked to describe any dream they’d been having.
The process was repeated until each participant had recounted at least 200 dreams. One drowsy man told the researchers, “From the sky, I saw something like a bronze statue, a big bronze statue. The bronze statue existed on a small hill. Below the hill, there were houses, streets and trees.”
Another volunteer said, “I hid a key in a place between a chair and a bed and someone took it.” The descriptions were analyzed and the key themes for each participant placed into twenty categories. Examples of categories include men, women, tools, books and cars.
Next, the volunteers, who were by now wide awake, were shown photos corresponding to things from the categories and their brains scanned once more.
A computer program quickly learnt to pick out the brain activity ‘signatures’ for each category. In the final part of the experiment, the computer put its knowledge to use, by trying to decode the brain scans of the volunteers as they slept once more.
Amazingly, the computer identified the sort of images being dreamt about 60 per cent of the time. This is far higher than would occur due to chance alone, says researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani of ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto.
Some neuroscientists said that the volunteers were sleeping so lightly during the study that they weren’t technically dreaming.
But the researchers believe that the dreaming of deep sleep may be very similar. U.S. neuroscientist and dream expert Robert Stickgold, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, said we are still far from having a machine that can fully read our dreams.
But, despite this, he described the study as ‘stunning in its detail and success’. He told Science, “This is probably the first real demonstration of the brain basis of dream content.”
Stickgold said the research proved, for the first time, that when people describe their dreams they are at least close to being accurate. “Up until this moment, there were no grounds on which to say we don't just make up our dreams when we wake up,” he explained.
He added that in future, the technique could be used to help us remember forgotten dreams. Similar technology has been used in rudimentary mind-reading of people when they are awake.