Ultimately, we are able to communicate with one another thanks to a handy machine called "the brain." And just like any machine, the brain functions thanks to a fixed set of algorithms. Decoding these algorithms could enable scientists to read an individual's inner thoughts. Indeed, it seems that researchers are already able to do this to a small degree. This may sound impossible, but it's not science fiction. In fact, it could be science fact sooner than you think.
Researchers from the University of California have been working on a way to understand private thoughts, and they just got one step closer to completing their task.
When you hear another person speak it is the result of our brain interpreting sound waves (they are produced when particles bump into one another and collide). Once they reach the brain, the sound waves activate specific neurons and the sounds are interpreted as words (or, in the case of a car horn, it would be whatever it was that created the sound). Recently, scientists created an algorithm that does the same thing, but with brain activity instead of sound waves.
In order to come up with a definitive way to essentially translate peoples' thoughts into words, scientists looked at the brain activity of seven people undergoing epilepsy surgery. The participants were asked to read a short piece of text twice; once aloud and once silently in their head. During this process, scientists mapped the brain activity. They made this map using Electrocorticographic (ECoG) readings of electrodes implanted in the patients.
Once the scientists measured the activity that was going on in the brain, they then built a personal ‘decoder’ for each patient by clearly noting which neurons were reacting to different aspects of speech.
In short, certain flashes of brain activity correspond to certain words. So once the scientists worked out which brain patterns corresponded to which words, they tried to use their decoder to read brain activity as the individuals were reading silently. They discovered that it was able to translate several words that the volunteers were thinking.
The team are now fine-tuning their algorithms; however, they have quite a ways to go before they will have created a full, efficient decoder. In the end, it may sound a little sinister, but this is a device that could help paralyzed individuals speak again.
We may not be able to delve into individuals minds just yet, but we can 'decode' certain words...and that's pretty astonishing.
The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroengineering. Hat tip to ScienceAlert