In a series of new experiments, scientists have been able to use a computer to decipher brain activity. So what, huh? Well, the computer can reconstruct those signals into the actual words the participants are thinking about. It can read your mind.
OK, so sometimes the words were difficult to recognise, but that's not the point: it means that people unable to speak could generate a voice just by thinking in sentences.
"Potentially, the technique could be used to develop an implantable prosthetic device to aid speaking, and for some patients that would be wonderful," Robert Knight, a senior member of the team and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Guardian. "Perhaps in 10 years it will be as common as grandmother getting a new hip."
The experiment involved 15 patients having the top of their skull removed — don't worry, they were already having surgery that required that — and having a net of electrodes laid across the surface of their brain.
The patients were then played a series of words for five to ten minutes while having their brain activity recorded. Software was then used to decode the brain signals and reconstruct the words. The research is published in PLoS Biology.
For now, reading someone's mind like this is an invasive process requiring access to the brain, but that's not to say it always will be. The idea of creating a device that could help give people a voice would surely cause some headaches, not least the problem of filtering private thoughts from information to be communicated. But scientists love a challenge. [PLoS Biology andThe Guardian; Image: dierk schaefer]