Thank you to our brothers and sisters at Xenophilia for pointing out an article in New Scientist from last December about Japanese researchers in Kyoto who have managed to recreate images words and numbers that subjects in a fMRI are looking at by scanning their brains.
The team, based at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories and led by Yakiyasu Kamitani, showed a group of words and numbers on a 10-square grid while scanning their brains. The scans were recorded to determine the activity present in the brain based on the perception of white and black pixels. Put together, the contrast of light and dark forms an image we perceive visually, but the brain picks this contrast out pixel by pixel.
For example, the pixels that are blacked out in a square to form the letter "n" are different than those that form the letter "w." By recording the brain's analysis of the pixel patterns in the squares in the grid, the researchers formed a database they could use to compare with activity generated by showing the test subjects other words as well. The software could analyze the activity in the brain triggered by exposure to a new set of words and recreate the word a subject was looking at.
It worked. The software spit out a reasonable image of the word "neuron" in pixelated black and white -- which a subject was viewing at the time.
Look, I'm as happy as anybody else that science is getting a real handle on our understanding of the universe; but I'm also familiar with allegories like Pandora's box. There are incredible applications for this: Kamitani mentions eventually creating reproductions of out dreams. This would, of course, be completely boss (especially with certain dreams). It could also be a nightmare. What is the likelihood that portable MRIs will replace security cameras to keep tabs on us (and what we're thinking about) on the street? Did we learn nothing from Minority Report?
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