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Thought identification refers to the empirically verified use of technology to, in some sense, read people's minds. Recent research using neuroimaging has provided some early demonstrations of the technology's potential to recognize high-order patterns in the brain. In some cases, this provides meaningful (and controversial) information to investigators.

Professor of neuropsychology, Barbara Sahakian, qualifies "A lot of neuroscientists in the field are very cautious and say we can't talk about reading individuals' minds, and right now that is very true, but we're moving ahead so rapidly, it's not going to be that long before we will be able to tell whether someone's making up a story, or whether someone intended to do a crime with a certain degree of certainty."[1]


Identifying thoughts[edit]

When humans think of an object, like a screwdriver, many different areas of the brain activate

When humans think of an object, like a screwdriver, many different areas of the brain activate. Psychologist Marcel Just and his colleague, Tom Mitchell, have used FMRI brain scans to teach a computer to identify the various parts of the brain associated with specific thoughts.[2]

This technology also yielded a discovery: similar thoughts in different human brains are surprisingly similar neurologically. To illustrate this, Just and Mitchell used their computer to predict, based on nothing but FMRI data, which of several images a volunteer was thinking about. The computer was 100% accurate, but so far the machine is only distinguishing between 10 images.[2]

Psychologist John Dylan-Haynes states that FMRI can also be used to identify recognition in the brain. He provides the example of a criminal being interrogated about whether he recognizes the scene of the crime or murder weapons.[2] Just and Mitchell also claim they are beginning to be able to identify kindness, hypocrisy, and love in the brain.[2]

In 2008 IBM applied for a patent on how to extract mental images of human faces from the human brain. It uses a feedback loop based on brain measurements of the fusiform gyrus area in the brain which activates proportionate with degree of facial recognition.[3]

In 2011, a team led by Shinji Nishimoto used only brain recordings to partially reconstruct what volunteers were seeing. The researchers applied a new model, about how moving object information is processed in human brains, while volunteers watched clips from several videos. An algorithm searched through thousands of hours of external YouTube video footage (none of the videos were the same as the ones the volunteers watched) to select the clips that were most similar.[4][5] The authors have uploaded demos comparing the watched and the computer-estimated videos.[6]

Predicting intentions[edit]

Some researchers in 2008 were able to predict, with 60% accuracy, whether a subject was going to push a button with their left or right hand. This is notable, not just because the accuracy is better than chance, but also because the scientists were able to make these predictions up to 10 seconds before the subject acted - well before the subject felt they had decided.[7] This data is even more striking in light of other research suggesting that the decision to move, and possibly the ability to cancel that movement at the last second,[8] may be the results of unconscious processing.[9]

John Dylan-Haynes has also demonstrated that fMRI can be used to identify whether a volunteer is about to add or subtract two numbers in their head.[2]

Brain as input device[edit]

The Emotiv Epoc is one way that users can give commands to devices using only thoughts

Emotiv Systems, an Australian electronics company, has demonstrated a headset that can be trained to recognize a user's thought patterns for different commands. Tan Le demonstrated the headset's ability to manipulate virtual objects on screen, and discussed various future applications for such brain-computer interface devices, from powering wheel chairs to replacing the mouse and keyboard.[10]

Decoding brain activity to reconstruct words[edit]

On 31 January 2012 Brian Pasley and colleagues of University of California Berkeley published their paper in PLoS Biology wherein subjects' internal neural processing of auditory information was decoded and reconstructed as sound on computer by gathering and analyzing electrical signals directly from subjects' brains.[11] The research team conducted their studies on the superior temporal gyrus, a region of the brain that is involved in higher order neural processing to make semantic sense from auditory information.[12] The research team used a computer model to analyze various parts of the brain that might be involved in neural firing while processing auditory signals. Using the computational model, scientists were able to identify the brain activity involved in processing auditory information when subjects were presented with recording of individual words.[13] Later, the computer model of auditory information processing was used to reconstruct some of the words back into sound based on the neural processing of the subjects. However the reconstructed sounds were not of good quality and could be recognized only when the audio wave patterns of the reconstructed sound were visually matched with the audio wave patterns of the original sound that was presented to the subjects.[13] However this research marks a direction towards more precise identification of neural activity in cognition.

Ethical issues[edit]

With brain scanning technology becoming increasingly accurate, experts predict important debates over how and when it should be used. One potential area of application is criminal law. Haynes states that simply refusing to use brain scans on suspects also prevents the wrongly accused from proving their innocence.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Guardian, "The brain scan that can read people's intentions"
  2. ^ a b c d e 60 Minutes "Technology that can read your mind"
  3. ^ IBM Patent Application: Retrieving mental images of faces from the human brain
  4. ^ Nishimoto, Shinji; Vu, An T.; Naselaris, Thomas; Benjamini, Yuval; Yu, Bin; Gallant, Jack L. (2011), Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies, Current Biology 21 (19): 1641–1646, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.031 
  5. ^ American Blog, Breakthrough Could Enable Others to Watch Your Dreams and Memories [Video], Philip Yam
  6. ^ Nishimoto et al. uploaded video, "Nishimoto.etal.2011.3Subjects.mpeg" on Youtube
  7. ^ Soon, C.; Brass, M.; Heinze, H.; Haynes, J. (2008). "Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain". Nature Neuroscience 11 (5): 543–545. doi:10.1038/nn.2112. PMID 18408715.  edit
  8. ^ Kühn, S., & Brass, M. (2009). Retrospective construction of the judgment of free choice.Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 12-21.
  9. ^ Matsuhashi, M., & Hallett, M. (2008). The timing of the conscious intention to move. European Journal of Neuroscience , 28, 2344-2351.
  10. ^ Tan Le: A headset that reads your brainwaves
  11. ^ Pasley BN, David SV, Mesgarani N, Flinker A, Shamma SA, et al. (2012) Reconstructing Speech from Human Auditory Cortex. PLoS Biol 10(1): e1001251. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001251
  12. ^ [1] Science decodes 'internal voices' BBC News 31 January 2012
  13. ^ a b [2] Secrets of the inner voice unlocked 1 Feb 2012

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_identification — Please support Wikipedia.
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11 news items

CBS News
Sun, 04 Jan 2009 16:43:34 -0800

He calls it "thought identification." Whatever you want to call it, what Just and his colleague Tom Mitchell at Carnegie Mellon University have done is combine fMRI's ability to look at the brain in action with computer science's new power to sort ...

Yahoo News UK

Yahoo News UK
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 04:59:10 -0700

"Some people call it 'thought identification' but it is essentially mind reading. It is the process of recognising activation patterns in the brain and identifying what thoughts are associated with them," Marks tells IBTimes UK. The service is ...

International Business Times UK

International Business Times UK
Tue, 16 Sep 2014 02:33:45 -0700

"Some people call it 'thought identification' but it's essentially mind reading," Marks told IBTimes UK. Initially intended for Preclinical Alzheimer's patients and other people wanting to preserve memories that they are worried might fade, the service ...

Irish Independent

Irish Independent
Thu, 25 Sep 2014 18:38:57 -0700

This app allows you to 'log' thoughts through its thought-identification tool and thought-challenging tool. The aim is to identify and challenge your core beliefs. Daily and weekly mood assessment and reports are available through the app. Get It Done.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Sat, 26 Apr 2014 21:03:30 -0700

Mr. Lund was inspired, in part, by a 2009 "60 Minutes" story addressing "thought identification" mind-reading techniques developed at CMU. The film is set in a future where MRI technology can read your mind. A sensational trial begins when a defendant ...
Thu, 30 Jan 2014 03:23:59 -0800

An interesting area of work currently within the field of neuroscience is 'Thought Identification'. To date, this is concentrated on neuroimaging of brain patterns, but theoretically this is just one type of data. Google has more global behavioural ...
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Thu, 08 Nov 2012 21:05:30 -0800

CMU's Marcel Just, a psychologist, and Tom Mitchell, a computer scientist, scan host David Pogue's brain to demonstrate their thought identification research. Later in the same episode CMU computer scientist Adrien Treuille discusses using video games ...
PR Web (press release)
Mon, 07 Apr 2014 00:16:48 -0700

Mind reading may refer to thought identification or the use of neuroimaging techniques to read people's thoughts. It also is linked to the illusion of telepathy in the performing art of mentalism. The Revelation Effect PDF is a newly updated course for ...

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