Great progress has been made by the military and industry on the technology of mind-reading devices. Now academia has entered the quest for interactive technology creating a bridge between human and machine brains.
The principal lab work for the device that interprets electrical brain activity was done by Professor Robert Knight of the University of California at Berkeley and neurosurgeon Dr. Edward Chang at University of California San Francisco. The study, "Reconstructing Speech from Human Auditory Cortex" is published in the journal Public Library of Sciences Biology.
Using advanced software, the research team successfully translated the brainwave electrical pattern from the auditory center of patients' temporal lobes. Using the breakthrough technology, the team predicted words subjects heard solely by the pattern of activity in the brain.
The new technology promises great hope to people suffering brain damage from trauma or disease.
"This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig's disease and can't speak," the UK Telegraph quoted Knight. "If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit."
First author Brian N. Pasley, however, cautioned in a UC Berkely press release that, “This research is based on sounds a person actually hears, but to use it for reconstructing imagined conversations, these principles would have to apply to someone’s internal verbalizations.”
“There is some evidence that hearing the sound and imagining the sound activate similar areas of the brain," he explained. "If you can understand the relationship well enough between the brain recordings and sound, you could either synthesize the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device.”
Pasley drew the analogy of a pianist able to hear the music played by watching the keys' being played on a piano in another room that was soundproofed.
The experiment used two different computer models. The better of the two had a 90 percent accuracy rating during the tests.
The scientists believe that the technology can be adapted to read other areas of the brain including those that control imagination and dreams. They also think that longer tests will enable them to "fine-tune" the mind-reading abilities of the device.
Neuroscientists are thrilled with the breakthrough as it confirms long-held theories that the stimuli of the senses is reduced to electrical coding that can then be interpreted by the brain. The mind-reading machine taps into that physiological process and reverses it to acquire real-time data.
Military and intelligence agencies developing similar technology
Separate research by scientists at the University of Glasgow conducted on a group of volunteers revealed that when the subjects were shown images of randomly selected human faces reacting with various emotions like astonishment, contentment, joy, anger and fear, the test group's brainwaves were read. Electrode sensors monitored their brainwaves and emotions. The brain activity crossed a wide spectrum and changed significantly as subjects looked at different faces exhibiting various emotions.
Analyzing the data resulting from the machine-brain interaction, the researchers discovered that 12 hertz beta waves were associated with the brain's perception of eyes. Four hertz theta waves corresponded to images of the mouth.
The leader of that study, Professor Philippe Schyns, told the Daily Mail that "It's a bit like unlocking a scrambled television channel. Before, we could detect the signal but couldn't watch the content; now we can. How the brain encodes the visual information that enables us to recognize faces and scenes has long been a mystery."
In the US, the Central Intelligence Agency has long been seeking mind-reading technology via brain-computer interfaces. Applications have a number of uses for espionage and counter-espionage, as well as confirmation of debriefing and interrogation sessions.
Over at the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working with the US Air Force to achieve the same thing with mind-reading drones.
Being able to decode brainwaves brings the technology a step closer. The researchers took another major step towards such a reality by demonstrating the ability to read the code of different facial features.
Automakers also aboard the 'mind-reading express'
Working with a team of Swiss scientists at the leading edge of artificial intelligence, the Japanese auto giant Nissan is convinced a revolutionary interface can be created between humans and their road machines in a drive towards increased safety.
Mind over machine has been a dominate theme during the latter half of the 20th Century, now it seems Nissan is going to turn that battle upside down making the machine over the mind by creating mind-reading cars.
With the emerging trend towards mind-reading technology now embarked upon by medical scientists, the military, and industry, a fashionable future trend among the public may well be tin foil hats to keep their private thoughts safely in their brains.