Mind Reading Becomes Reality

November 4, 2014

Mind reading

Scientists at the University of California were able to successfully reconstruct what words people were thinking just by looking at their brain activity.

A Thought Decoder

When we hear words, sensory neurons in our inner ear react to various sound waves and send that information to the brain.

The brain then extracts different aspects of the sound and “translates” them into words.

The team found that “certain neurons in the brain’s temporal lobe were only active in response to certain aspects of sound, such as a specific frequency.”

Armed with this knowledge, Brian Pasley and his team built an algorithm that can decode what words a person is hearing solely based on neural activity.

Future Rebuilt

Pasley then had a thought: could they use the same algorithm to decode words that were merely thought? To answer this question, the researchers gathered a group of healthy volunteers and recorded their brain activity while they, first, read text aloud, then, read the text in their head, then did nothing.

After recording this information, they applied the brain decoder to the brain activity that occurred while the volunteers were reading in their head. Incredibly, the decoder was able to decode many of the words the volunteers were thinking.

There are other decoders of a similar nature currently being researched: one that can tell what picture a person is looking at, and one that can reproduce movie clips based on what someone is watching.

The hope is to one day use a decoder like this to allow communication for those who are unable to physically speak, for example, due to being paralyzed.

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