Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have developed a way for a computer to detect images that are in a person’s mind from the blood flow and other activity in their brain.
"This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery," Jack Gallant, professor of psychology and coauthor of a study published today in Current Biology said in a statement, ABC News reports. "We are opening a window into the movies in our minds."
According to ABC News:
Gallant's coauthors acted as study subjects, watching YouTube videos inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine for several hours at a time. The team then used the brain imaging data to develop a computer model that matched features of the videos -- like colors, shapes and movements -- with patterns of brain activity.
"Once we had this model built, we could read brain activity for that subject and run it backwards through the model to try to uncover what the viewer saw," said Gallant.
Subtle changes in blood flow to visual areas of the brain, measured by functional MRI, predicted what was on the screen at the time – whether it was Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau or an airplane. The reconstructed videos are blurry because they layer all the YouTube clips that matched the subject's brain activity pattern. The result is a haunting, almost dream-like version of the video as seen by the mind's eye.
The researchers said they hope to develop mind-reading technology into a way to help people like stroke victims, patients in comas and people with Lou Gehrig’s disease communicate.
The technique requires a person to spend long periods in an MRI machine, so there’s little danger that people could use it to spy on others’ thoughts, Gallant told the Wall Street Journal.