Scientists create machine that knows what you are thinking

Daily Mail | January 3, 2008
By Fiona Macrae

Scientists have developed a machine which is capable of reading our mind and revealing our most private thoughts.

American researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, found that, with the aid of a sophisticated scanner and computer programme, they were able to determine how the brain lights up when thinking about different subjects.

Using an advanced form of MRI scanner, they analysed how the brain reacted to ten drawings of tools and buildings.

They then used a computer programme to work out whether a person was thinking about a tool or a building.

The researchers' analysis was found to be 97 per cent accurate but they went on to show that they could distinguish between two similar objects, such as two different tools, almost as successfully.

This is the first time the technique has been finetuned to distinguish between similar objects.

The brain scans also showed many different brain regions are involved in processing information even in the case of something as simple as a line drawing of a hammer.

Thinking about how a hammer is used activated the areas involved in movement, while thinking about the shape of a hammer and what it is used for lit up other regions.

Despite being limited to picking up the thoughts behind just ten pictures, the researchers are confident that they will soon be able to identify entire sentences.

One of the team, Dr Svetlana Shinkareva, said: "We hope to progress to identifying the thoughts associated not just with pictures but also with words and eventually sentences."

The technique could also have medical applications by, for example, providing valuable insights into conditions such as autism.

Study leader Professor Marcel Just said: "People with autism perceive others in a distinctive way that has been difficult to characterise.

"This approach offers a way to discover that characterisation."

The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also showed that different people think about the same thing in the same way.

"This part of the study establishes, as never before, that there is a commonality in how different people's brains represent the same subject," the study said.

"There has always been a philosophical conundrum as to whether one person's perception of the colour blue is the same as another person's.

"Now we see that there is a great deal of commonality across different people's brain activity corresponding to familiar tools and dwellings."

The device's possibilities can, however, be extended and the team envisage a time when it will be used to conduct infallible lie detector tests, while the accurate interpretation of a person's intentions could allow police to arrest criminals before they break the law, as seen in the film Minority Report.