Device That Reads Minds May Become a RealityBy: Billy Thomas - February 1, 2012
Have you ever wondered what or if a coma patient was thinking? Have you ever wanted to read someone’s mind or have your own mind read? Well, it seems your curiosity could be answered. A device that measures brain waves of brain damaged patients in hospitals could be adapted to be used as a mind reading device.
In the video, a key word is spoken to each patient, using the scanner, the device measures brain activity and “guesses” what the patient’s brain waves relay into “words”. Essentially the device reads brain signals and then echoes the information back at the moment of the audio stimulation.
The brain breaks down words into complex electrical patterns that can be decoded and translated back using the machine. The device analyzes the the activity upon reception of the audio information, it can then report back an approximation of the original sound. It’s believed that the brain processes thought much in the same way it processes sound; scientists believe this breakthrough may, in the future, lead to and implant that can interpret, essentially, the brain waves in those patients unable to speak, translating that data into audible speech.
Seeing as the device is based mainly on sound reaction interpretation, the device is said to be a long way off due to the fact that scientists would have to develop it in such a way that can analyze thoughts of patients, rather than reacting to sound.
According to a source, the device would require electrodes implanted into the physical brain of a subject because there are no sensors in existence that could detect the finite electrical signals of the brain from a non-invasive stand point. A researcher from the University of California at Berkley commented saying:
“This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease and can’t speak. If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit.”
A study was done, analyzing patients suffering from epilepsy, who were to undergo surgery to point out the cause of their seizures. The process entailed having small electrodes placed on the brain through a hole in the skull. Now, while the electrodes were attached, the team mediated activity in the temporal lobe of the brain; the area which precesses speech. In that time, the patients listened to recordings of clear, concise speech and conversation.
The conversation was broken down into its baser sounds and with this, the team was able to build 2 computer models that matched signals in the brains of the individuals to actual sounds. After that, they tested the two models by playing a single word recording to the patients, which then gave them the ability to guess, from the brain activity, what the word they heard was.
The more concise of the two models was able to make an extreme approximation of the given word from the team. Researchers say the technology could be adapted to become more accurate by studying the brain waves of patients during longer conversations or by studying other parts of the brain that involve speech.
Some critics say, though, that this “mind-reading device” could be used to spy on people’s private thoughts, but Professor Brian Pasley dismissed it saying:
“This is just to understand how the brain converts sound into meaning, and that is a very complicated process. The clinical application would be down the road if we could find out more about those imaginary processes. This research is based on sounds a person actually hears, but to use this for a prosthetic device these principles would have to apply to someone who is imagining speech.”
One professor, Jan Schnupp said that this research is “remarkable”. He went on to say:
“Neuroscientists have long believed that the brain essentially works by translating aspects of the external world, such as spoken words, into patterns of electrical activity, but proving that this is true by showing that it is possible to translate these activity patterns back into the original sound -or at least a fair approximation of it- is nevertheless a great step forward, and it paves the way to rapid progress toward biomedical applications.”