Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have invented a brain decoder device that’s able to work out what you’re thinking based on neuron activity inside the brain — essentially, the experimental system means your private inner thoughts are no longer so private. Researchers invited test subjects to read a passage of text out loud and then again in their mind, monitoring brain activity each time to look for linked patterns.
This is about more than spying on your secret thoughts, though — it could be an invaluable method of communication for people who have lost the ability to speak, for whatever reason. Further down the line we could find ourselves controlling smartphones, computers and other devices using nothing but the power of our minds.
“If you’re reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head,” the University’s Brian Pasley told New Scientist. “We’re trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralysed or locked in to speak.” Pasley and his team based their work around the hypothesis that hearing words in our head causes the same kind of brain activity as hearing them spoken.
The hardware required for this sophisticated decoding is still at the developmental stage and isn’t accurate enough to be used outside of the lab yet, but the signs are promising. “It’s preliminary data, and we’re still working on making it better,” says Pasley. The researchers are also looking into the effects that hearing music has on the brain.
At the moment, the technology only works if the subject has been carefully monitored for some time, and the algorithms underpinning the system can vary from person to person. Still, when an all-encompassing instant mind reading device does appear, remember that you heard it here first.