Mind-boggling! Science creates computer that can decode your thoughts and put them into words

Mind-boggling! Science creates computer that can decode your thoughts and put them into words

  • Technology could offer lifeline for stroke victims and people hit by degenerative diseases
  • In the study, a computer analyzed brain activity and reproduced words that people were hearing 

By Tamara Cohen
05:49 GMT, 1 February 2012

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction dreams – or nightmares.

Scientists believe they have found a way to read our minds, using a computer program that can decode brain activity in our brains and put it into words.

They say it could offer a lifeline to those whose speech has been affected by stroke or degenerative disease, but many will be concerned about the implications of a technique that can eavesdrop on thoughts and reproduce them.

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Scientific breakthrough: An X-ray CT scan of the head of one of the volunteers, showing electrodes distributed over the brain's temporal lobe, where sounds are processed

Scientific breakthrough: An X-ray CT scan of the head of one of the volunteers, showing electrodes distributed over the brain’s temporal lobe, where sounds are processed

 
 
 
 

Weird science: Scientists believe the technique, shown here, could also be used to read and report what they were thinking of saying next

Weird science: Scientists believe the technique, shown here, could also be used to read and report what they were thinking of saying next

Neuroscientists at the University of California Berkeley put electrodes inside the skulls of brain surgery patients to monitor information from their temporal lobe, which is involved in the processing of speech and images.

As the patient listened to someone speaking, a computer program analysed how the brain processed and reproduced the words they had heard.

 

 

The scientists believe the technique could also be used to read and report what they were thinking of saying next.

In the journal PLoS Biology, they write that it takes attempts at mind reading to ‘a whole new level’.

 

Brain workings: Researchers tested 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumours

Brain workings: Researchers tested 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumours

 

Words with scientists: The top graphic shows a spectrogram of six isolated words (deep, jazz, cause) and pseudo-words (fook, ors, nim). At bottom, the speech segments how the words were reconstructed based on findings from the electrodes

Words with scientists: The top graphic shows a spectrogram of six isolated words (deep, jazz, cause) and pseudo-words (fook, ors, nim). At bottom, the speech segments how the words were reconstructed based on findings from the electrodes

Robert Knight, professor of psychology and neuroscience, added: ‘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.

‘If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands could benefit.’

 

The researchers tested 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumours.

They agreed to have up to 256 electrodes put on to the brain surface, as they listened to men and women saying individual words including nouns, verbs and names.

 
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Testing: As a subject listened to someone speaking, a computer program analysed how the brain processed and reproduced the words they had heard

Breakthrough: The ability to scan the brain and read thoughts could offer a lifeline to those whose speech has been affected by a stroke or degenerative disease

Breakthrough: The ability to scan the brain and read thoughts could offer a lifeline to those whose speech has been affected by a stroke or degenerative disease

A computer programme analysed the activity from the electrodes, and reproduced the word they had heard or something very similar to it at the first attempt.

 
 

Co-author Brian Pasley said there is already mounting evidence that ‘perception and imagery may be pretty similar in the brain’.

Therefore with more work, brain recordings could allow scientists to ‘synthesise the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device.’

Their study also shows in sharp relief how the auditory system breaks down sound into its individual frequencies – a range of around 1 to 8,000 Hertz for human speech.

Pasley told ABC News: ‘This study mainly focused on lower-level acoustic characteristics of speech. But I think there’s a lot more happening in these brain areas than acoustic analysis’.

He added: ‘We sort of take it for granted, the ability to understand speech. But your brain is doing amazing computations to accomplish this feat.’

 
 

Analyzing words: This graphic breaks down the three ways the brain hears spoken words and processes sounds

Analyzing words: This graphic breaks down the three ways the brain hears spoken words and processes sounds

This information does not change inside the brain but can be accurately mapped and the original sound decoded by a computer. British expert Professor Jan Schnupp, from Oxford University who was not involved in the study said it was ‘quite remarkable’.

‘Neuroscientists have of course long believed that the brain essentially works by translating aspects of the external world, such as spoken words, into patterns of electrical activity’, he said.

‘But proving that this is true by showing that it is possible to translate these activity patterns back into the original sound (or at least a fair approximation of it) is nevertheless a great step forward, and it paves the way to rapid progress toward biomedical applications.’

He played down fears it could lead to range of ‘mind reading’ devices as the technique can only, at the moment, be done on patients willing to have surgery.

Non-invasive brain scans are not powerful enough to read this level of information so it will remain limited to ‘small numbers of willing patients’.

He added: ‘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.’

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Scientists Warn of Ethical Battle Concerning Military Mind Control

Scientists Warn of Ethical Battle Concerning Military Mind Control

Advances in neuroscience are closer than ever to becoming a reality, but scientists are warning the military – along with their peers – that with great power comes great responsibility!

March 20, 2012

A future of brain-controlled tanks, automated attack drones and mind-reading interrogation techniques may arrive sooner than later, but advances in neuroscience that will usher in a new era of combat come with tough ethical implications for both the military and scientists responsible for the technology, according to one of the country’s leading bioethicists.

“Everybody agrees that conflict will be changed as new technologies are coming on,” says Jonathan Moreno, author ofMind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century. “But nobody knows where that technology is going.”

[See pictures of Navy SEALs]

Moreno warns in an essay published in the science journal PLoS Biology Tuesday that the military’s interest in neuroscience advancements “generates a tension in its relationship with science.”

“The goals of national security and the goals of science may conflict. The latter employs rigorous standards of validation in the expansion of knowledge, while the former depends on the most promising deployable solutions for the defense of the nation,” he writes.

Much of neuroscience focuses on returning function to people with traumatic brain injuries, he says. Just as Albert Einstein didn’t know his special theory of relativity could one day be used to create a nuclear weapon, neuroscience researchintended to heal could soon be used to harm.

“Neuroscientists may not consider how their work contributes to warfare,” he adds.

Moreno says there is a fine line between using neuroscience devices to allow an injured person to regain baseline functions and enhancing someone’s body to perform better than their natural body ever could.

“Where one draws that line is not obvious, and how one decides to cross that line is not easy. People will say ‘Why would we want to deny warfighters these advantages?'” he says.

[Mind Control, Biometrics Could Change the World]

Moreno isn’t the only one thinking about this. The Brookings Institution’s Peter Singer writes in his book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, that “‘the Pentagon’s real-world record with things like the aboveground testing of atomic bombs, Agent Orange, and Gulf War syndrome certainly doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence among the first generation of soldiers involved [in brain enhancementresearch.]”

The military, scientists and ethicists are increasingly wondering how neuroscience technology changes the battlefield. The staggering possibilities are further along than many think. There is already development on automated drones that are programmed to make their own decisions about who to kill within the rules of war. Other ideas that are closer-than-you-think to becoming a military reality: Tanks controlled from half a world away, memory erasures that could prevent PTSD, and “brain fingerprinting” that could be used to extract secrets from enemies.Moreno foretold some of these developments when he first published Mind Wars in 2006, but not without trepidation.

“I was afraid I’d be dismissed as a paranoid schizophrenic when I first published the book,” he says. But then a funny thing happened—the Department of Defense and other military groups began holding panels on neurotechnology to determine how and when it should be used. I was surprised how quickly the policy questions moved forward. Questions like: ‘Can we use autonomous attack drones?’ ‘Must there be a human being in the vehicle?’ ‘How much of a payload can it have?’. There are real questions coming up in the international legal community.”

All of those questions will have to be answered sooner than later, Moreno says, along with a host of others. Should soldiers have the right to refuse “experimental” brain implants? Will the military want to use some of this technology before science deems it safe?

“There’s a tremendous tension about this,” he says. “There’s a great feeling of responsibility that we push this stuff out so we’re ahead of our adversaries.”

The program is to model machine intelligence on human intelligence by
understanding how our brains work:
Then allow machines to be fully autonomous and enable them to follow their
programming, already machines built from these methods are capable of learning
Why would we want a stupid human factored in to being a pilot? An electrical circuit is
thousands of times faster than protein synapses, why have a worm when you can have an
eagle? Of course we are capable of ‘tele-war’ by connecting nervous systems to devices
tele-tanks are also a possibility.
In the next decade, the program’s timetable is to have functioning real-
life terminators:
Here are other citations you may find interesting:
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational models to decode
and reconstruct people’s dynamic visual experiences:
http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2811%2900937-7
Data mining opens the door to predictive neuroscience:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/epfd-dmo041112.php
New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable:
http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/26/business/la-fi-auto-drone-20120126/2
Artificial synapses could lead to advanced computer memory and machines that
The problem is all of this is old news, the military-industrial complex is 5-10 years
ahead of the public. If I were to say that DARPA is currently working on
smart-dust nanotechnology and is even capable of adding, editing, and
deleting memory in humans would you believe me? Doesn’t matter, time will prove it.

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