Technological advancements in recent years has unlocked a sea of startling possibilities, including the much-dreaded ability to read people’s minds. As part of a recent research, scientists from the University of Oregon have built an ingenious system that, they claim, can read your thoughts and memories through brain scans, putting the information on screen for everyone to see.
Ethical dilemmas aside, the innovative mind-reading technology is capable of reconstructing faces, thoughts and memories going through the person’s mind. Speaking about the rather scary breakthrough, recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, Brice Kuhl, a neuroscientist at the university, said:
We can take someone’s memory – which is typically something internal and private – and we can pull it out from their brains.
For the research, the team worked with a group of 23 volunteers. Each of these participants was shown 1,000 color photos of random faces, while being hooked to an advanced functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. The device, according to the researchers, discerns small changes in the brain’s blood flow, so as to measure its neurological activity.
As the team points out, the functional MRI machine was also connected to a specially-designed artificial intelligence program that studied the brain activities of each of the volunteers, using a mathematical model to record each of the faces shown in real-time. To assist the AI program, the scientists assigned as many as 300 numbers to specific physical features of the faces in the photos.
For the first part of the research, the team focused on training the artificial intelligence to correlate certain neurological activities with particular physical features on the faces. Following that, the team hooked the AI to the functional MRI machine. This allowed the program to see how the faces in the photos appeared, via nothing but the volunteers’ brain activity.
This time around, however, the participants were shown photos of 1,000 faces that were completely different from the ones used in the previous round. According to the researchers, the machine successfully reconstructed the faces by reading the neurological activities in two, separate parts of the brain, namely the occipitotemporal cortex (OTC) and the angular gyrus (ANG).
The former is the visual processing hub, while the latter plays a major role in several processes, including spatial awareness, number processing, language acquisition and interpretation as well as the formation of vivid memories. Although the results are not that accurate at present, the scientists believe that they have reached a important breakthrough.
As the researchers explain, when the artificial reconstructions were shown to a different set of volunteers, they were able to correctly answer questions about the faces originally seen by the participants hooked to the functional MRI device. Brian Resnick of Vox writes:
[The researchers] showed these reconstructed images to a separate group of online survey respondents and asked simple questions like, ‘Is this male or female?’ ‘Is this person happy or sad?’ and ‘Is their skin colour light or dark?’ To a degree greater than chance, the responses checked out. These basic details of the faces can be gleaned from mind reading.
This means that the second set of volunteers could correctly read the thoughts of the previous group, albeit with the help of a machine. At present, the team is trying to achieve an even more difficult feat: getting the artificial intelligence to reconstruct faces by retrieving information from the person’s memory.
Source: University of Oregon