Wash. U. Scientists Discover Mind-Reading

Brain Chip.jpg
Washington University
Tell me if this hurts...
​It sounds like something from a science-fiction novel: communicating with another person not by speaking or gesticulating, but simply by thinking.

Mental telepathy mumbo-jumbo, right?

Nope. According to scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine, this form of communication has been occurring for a while in their labs, marking the first occasions in which a person's thoughts have been channeled across a computer screen.

"We are truly starting to read the language of thought," author Eric C. Leuthardt said in a university news release. "This is one of the earliest examples, to a very, very small extent, of what is called 'reading minds' -- detecting what people are saying to themselves in their internal dialogue."


The secret lies in a small surgical implant -- embedded in a patient's brain -- which is programmed to identify certain brainwave patterns that get activated when the patient thinks about a specific sound.

There are huge applications for people who've suffered from brain or vocal-chord damage.

Here's the method: Test subjects (in this case, epilepsy patients) were outfitted with brain-computer interfaces, which were implanted in the regions of the brain controlling speech. Patients then were instructed to think about one of four particular sounds ("oo," "ee," "ay" or "a," as in "hat"). The act of thinking about those sounds created brainwave patterns that the interfaces identified and transmitted to a computer screen. By the end of the experiment, patients could control the movement of a cursor on a computer monitor simply by thinking of a particular sound.

The research was published this week in The Journal of Neural Engineering.

So, back to the science-fiction novel analogy. It's pretty spooky to think about how far this research can go -- and what could happen if the technology were to be adopted for non-therapeutic purposes. It's conceivable that the day will come when we can all get our heads implanted and have computer-assisted conversations with family members scattered across the country -- without even opening our mouths or striking a keypad.

The only thing we'd need to do is think.


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9 comments
drfeelok
drfeelok

J. Ryan Fuller - I've read a few review articles, but I don't have the background to really engage this topic and do it justice. I don't thjink we should jump to conclusions about the usefulness of this technology.

First, it takes an EEG that goes under the skull and sits atop the cortex. Normal EEGs get too much noise because the skull somehow screws with the signal. Thats not a "small device" - it involves some real invasive stuff. The reason why epilepsy patients are the ones chosen is because other therapies/surgeries they require involve opening up the skull as shown. It is not an easy procedure, so I wouldn't hold my breath that people who

However, its clear that this technology cannot do interpretive work for shrinks without some creative, ingenious new way to apply it. It locks onto people's internal verbalizations by reading the systems that generate the phonetic content of speech. It cannot read thoughts that are not clearly and explicitly "sounded out" in their heads. I don't think most shrinks are particularly concerned with the patients thought content that is explicitly verbalized without being actually spoken. I don't think this would include sudden bursts of insight that are not spoken aloud - the patient has to actually sound out the words in their heads (I think).

Although that could lead to clinical uses by some out-of-the-box thinking docs, I don't see an immediate clinical application. I think of a shrink as someone who interprets my thoughts/dispositions that are vague rather than someone who reads the words I say in my head that don't quite make it through my lips (words of which I'm totally consciously aware). Rather, they are interested in the thought content that of which I'm not aware (or, thought content about which I am not totally clear) - things that are not verbalized.

I do think that someone creative can put it to clinical talk-therapy use - but thats going to take a lot more imagination on the part of researchers.

I'm not minimizing this stuff - its incredible.

J. Ryan Fuller
J. Ryan Fuller

Mind reading technology could drastically change how we approach emotional and behavioral disorders. Clinicians may be able to assess and intervene with consistency and precision outside of therapy sessions. But, it is an understatement to say this could have frightening unintended consequences.

J. Ryan Fullerhttp://jryanfuller.com

Alphred
Alphred

Derren Brown has been doing it for years.

Brianwheatleyshow
Brianwheatleyshow

The US Government used Telepathy to communicate with the Alien from Roswell many years ago apparently... this without implanting any kind of chip in anyone's head. Video of the alien can be found on Youtube or anywhere really...

Robdup12345
Robdup12345

They have also figured out how to control a car with thoughts. Crazy stuff. I've got a bad case of ADD so it probably wouldn't be a good Oh look! A shiny penny....crash

Spicytoy Joe
Spicytoy Joe

This time Mind-Reading Machine not a science fiction novel, but a reality! Because scientists are now able to convert thoughts – brain signals into words using sensors attached to the speech center of the brain.http://funnyandspicy.com/mind-...

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