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April 28, 2005

Mind reading machine: Good technology or bad?

From New Scientist:

Scientists have already trained monkeys to move a robotic arm with the power of thought and to recreate scenes moving in front of cats by recording information directly from the feline’s neurons (New Scientist print edition, 2 October 1999). But these processes involve implanting electrodes into their brains to hook them up to a computer.

Now Yukiyasu Kamitani, at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, and Frank Tong at Princeton University in New Jersey, US, have achieved similar “mind reading” feats remotely using functional MRI scanning.

The pair showed patterns of parallel lines in 1 of 8 orientations to four volunteers. By focussing on brain regions involved in visual perception they were able to recognise which orientation the subjects were observing.

Each line orientation corresponded to a different pattern of brain activity, although the patterns were different in each person. What is more, when two sets of lines were superimposed and the subjects were asked to focus on one set, the researchers could work out which one they were thinking of from the brain images.

A machine that can know what you're thinking and could even search your memory. On one hand the courts have been overly protective of privacy rights, to the point of inventing silly conditions (police cannot measure the temperature of the roof of your house to determine if you might be growing marijuana.) On the other hand, under the control of a despotic government, the device that eventually could develop from this could give tremendous power to dominate and enslave people.

It could be a boon to law enforcement, but would it be worth it? It could also be a tremendous help to the handicapped. But would society limit its use to that?

Some interesting questions.

Posted by Danny Carlton at April 28, 2005 10:32 AM

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