Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Scientists trial 'mind reading' computer

Scientists trial 'mind reading' computer

16:00 AEDT Wed Feb 1 2012
A scan showing electrodes connected to patients used in the test. (University of California)
A scan showing electrodes connected to patients used in the test. (University of California)

It's long been the stuff of science fiction, but scientists say a "mind reader" may be closer than previously thought.

Neuroscientists from the University of California Berkley have invented a computer program which can decode brain activity and translate it into words.

It may be a breakthrough for those whose speech has been affected by stroke or degenerative diseases, but the technology has also raised concerns about the potential to eavesdrop on people’s thoughts.
A recent trial of the technology saw researchers from the university test 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumors.

The patients each had 256 electrodes put on the surface of their temporal lobe, which processes speech and images, and then listened to men and women speaking individual words including object and place names.
A computer program analysed the brain activity and reproduced the word they had heard, or something very similar, at the first attempt.

Robert Knight, professor of psychology and neuroscience, said many could benefit from the technology in the future.

"This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig's [motor neurone] disease and can't speak," he was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying.

"If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands could benefit."
While the breakthrough may seem concerning to some, British neurological expert Professor Jan Schnupp from Oxford University has played down the potential for the technology to read unwilling subjects' thoughts.
He claims for now at least, it will only apply to those willing to have surgery.

"Perhaps luckily for all those of us who value the privacy of their own thoughts, we can rest assured that our skulls will remain an impenetrable barrier for any would-be technological mind hacker for any foreseeable future," Professor Schnupp told the Daily Mail

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