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This Machine Reads Your Mind

CNN | June 6, 2005

Your private thoughts may not be so private.

Scientists from Japan and the United States have figured out how to read a person's mind by remotely measuring brain activity, extracting information of which the subject is not even aware. Science fiction? No. It's real.

So far it's pretty rudimentary stuff in that the mind-reading machine can only identify visual patterns a volunteer can see or has chosen to look at. But the researchers are hopeful that the approach will eventually probe into a person's awareness, focus of attention, memory, and movement intention, report New Scientist and Scientific American.

This cutting-edge experiment was undertaken by Yukiyasu Kamitani, who is with the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, and Frank Tong from Princeton University. Volunteers were shown patterns of parallel lines in one of eight different variations. When Kamitani and Tong used functional MRI scanning to examine the brain regions that were used to perceive the patterns, they were able to recognize which variation the volunteer was viewing. New Scientist reports that each of the eight line variations corresponded to a different pattern of brain activity; interestingly, the patterns were different in each person.

Here's an eye-popping finding: When two sets of patterns were superimposed and the volunteers were told to focus on just one of them, the researchers were able to tell from the brain images which one they were looking at!

One exciting application: Doctors could use it to find out if comatose patients are actually conscious.

The study findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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