Patt Morrison

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Scientists see what’s in your mind and reproduce it on screen

by Kathleen Miles | Patt Morrison

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A result from the study. Researchers watched movie clips and a computer program pieced together data from their brain activity to form an image. Shinji Nishimoto

Have you ever wanted to see inside someone else’s mind? Researchers at U.C. Berkeley have developed a technology that allows them to reproduce the moving images a person is looking at by tracking their brain activity. The hope is to be able to then reproduce the moving images that a person isn’t seeing, but rather thinking—say, in a dream, thought or memory.

To develop this technology, researchers James Gallant, Shinji Nishimoto and two others served as their own subjects, sitting inside an MRI scanner for hours at a time watching movie trailers. The brain activity that the MRI machine tracked was recorded into a computer program that learned, second by second, the brain activity that corresponds to each visual image. Next, the program was tested by having the subjects watch videos and seeing if it could determine the moving images the person was seeing. By putting together the 100 images most similar to what the subject was seeing, the program produced eerily blurry, yet recognizable images of the video that was watched.

The implications of this technology could mean eventually being able to read the minds of people who have thoughts but are unable to communicate them, such as stroke victims, coma patients and people with neurodegenerative diseases. Even further, there’s hope that it could lead to enabling people with cerebral palsy or paralysis to guide a computer with their minds.

The study’s coauthor, Jack Gallant, joins us to answer our questions; Martin Monti joins us to discuss application to comatose patients.

WEIGH IN:

If you could watch your own memory, fantasy or dream on YouTube, would you want to? If visually producing memories, thoughts and dreams becomes a reality, could there be practical implications in the field of psychology or criminology?

Guests:

Jack Gallant, neuroscientist and professor of psychology, UC Berkeley; co-author of brain imaging study

Martin Monti, Ph.D., assistant professor, cognitive psychology, UCLA; researches consciousness and cognition in coma, vegetative and minimally conscious state

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