Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Guardian reports: [edited]
Scientists have developed a computerised mind-reading technique which lets them accurately predict the images that people are looking at by using scanners to study brain activity.
The breakthrough by American scientists took MRI scanning equipment normally used in hospital diagnosis to observe patterns of brain activity when a subject examined a range of black and white photographs. A computer was able to correctly predict in nine out of 10 cases which image people were focused on. Guesswork would have been accurate only eight times in every 1,000 attempts.
Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists, led by Dr Jack Gallant from the University of California at Berkeley, said: "Our results suggest that it may soon be possible to reconstruct a picture of a person's visual experience from measurements of brain activity alone."
However the team have warned about potential privacy issues in the future when scanning techniques improve. "It is possible that decoding brain activity could have serious ethical and privacy implications downstream in, say, the 30 to 50-year time frame," said Prof Gallant. "[We] believe strongly that no one should be subjected to any form of brain-reading process involuntarily, covertly, or without complete informed consent."
"I think it's a significant advance," said Prof Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "It's much more exciting than mind reading and police interrogation ... These people are finding how the brain codes naturalistic scenes. They understand what the brain is saying."