Legions of science-fiction authors have imagined a future that includes mind-reading technology. Although the ability to play back memories like a movie remains a distant dream, a new study has taken a provocative step in that direction by decoding neural signals for images.
Neuroscientist Kendrick Kay and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, were able to successfully determine which of a large group of never-before-seen photographs a subject was viewing based purely on functional MRI data. By analyzing fMRI scans of viewers as they looked at thousands of images, Kay’s team created a computer model that uses picture elements such as angles and brightness to predict the neural activity elicited by a novel black-and-white photograph. Then the researchers scanned subjects while showing them new snapshots. Most of the time Kay’s model could single out which image the subject was viewing by matching its prediction of brain activity to the actual activity measured by the fMRI scanner, although very similar pictures tended to baffle the program.
(via Tomorrow Museum)