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Could the United States Army hold the key to reading minds?

ESP may have once been nothing more than a far-fetched tale of science fiction (or a bad Mean Girls joke), but now, life is imitating imagination. The United States military, which has previously hung its hat on its physical might, now has added some serious mental bragging rights as well. According to a recent press release from the U.S. Army, a research facility known as “The MIND Lab” achieved something pretty incredible —  “a desktop computer was able to accurately determine what target image a soldier was thinking about.”

The seemingly impossible feat was accomplished by monitoring the soldier’s brain waves, the Army explained. The study participant was hooked up to an electroencephalogram, a machine that allows researchers to effectively “read” brain activity. During the experiment, the soldier was asked to sit in front of a computer screen, whereupon he was shown a series of images, each of which fell into one of five categories: boats, pandas, strawberries, butterflies, and chandeliers. Researchers asked the subject to choose one of these five categories and count how many images flashed on the screen. There was no talking, clicking, or motioning of any sort — he only had to count in his head.

Two minutes after the soldier had been shown all images in the series, the computer determined that he’d chosen the “boat” category — as the Army press release explained, “When a picture of a boat had been flashed on the screen, the soldier’s brain waves appeared different from when a picture of a strawberry, a butterfly, a chandelier or a panda appeared on the screen.”

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Dr. Anthony Ries, the scientist who conducted the Army experiment, notes that this breakthrough may be a major benefit to the intelligence community, which often has trouble processing the incredible amount of information it takes in. “Our ability to collect and store imagery data has been surpassed by our ability to analyze it,” Ries said, “What we are doing is basically leveraging the neural responses of the visual system.”

Ultimately, Ries notes, “Our brain is a much faster image processor than any computer is,” making it an impressive tool whose full capacity has yet to be realized. But with this latest development, we may be getting just a bit closer.