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Medicine Science

Scientists Use fMRI To (Sort of) Read Minds 57

Posted by kdawson
from the penny-for-your-thoughts-nevermind-we'll-just-take-them dept.
NigelTheFrog writes "Researchers in England have used fMRI to map the activity in volunteers' hippocampuses. From these scans, they could pinpoint exactly where they were in a virtual reality landscape. 'Specific parts of each participant's hippocampus were active after that person had navigated to particular places in the room. A few practice rounds provided fodder for creating algorithms for each participant that correlated different brain activity patterns with different virtual locations. The algorithms, the team found, could in turn "predict" new virtual locations, not those used during practice rounds, based on each person's pattern of brain activity.'"
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Scientists Use fMRI To (Sort of) Read Minds

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  • First post (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:50PM (#27196841)
    I read kdawson's mind and knew he was about to post this article. Thanks England for getting me a first post!
    • Employers are already looking into early-stage prototypes they can fit on their employees to predict their position and movement within buildings. This will save them time and money since they will never again have to ask, "where did Tom go?"

      • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:00PM (#27197187)

        Employers are already looking into early-stage prototypes they can fit on their employees to predict their position and movement within buildings. This will save them time and money since they will never again have to ask, "where did Tom go?"

        Unfortunately those early tests have shown a slight decrease in productivity after every computer within 10 feet of the 3 Tesla magnetic field failed to boot. There was also a serious setback when one of the testers forgot to remove the prototype before taking a train home and derailed it.

  • Volunteer? (Score:3, Funny)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:57PM (#27196871)

    How can a hippopotamus give consent?

  • by Forge (2456) <kevinforgeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:07PM (#27196925) Homepage Journal
    Thoughts are just electrical signals flowing throgh your brain (darn, I'm sounding like Morpheus). Electricity can be measured in excruciatingly fine detail so reading minds has been possible for some time now.

    The difficulty is trying to make head or tail out of what is read. Until the technology can tell the difference between: "I wonder what's her IQ"" and "Dose she swallow?" it's like scanning pages of Japanese text and handing it to someone who speaks only English.

    These guys have taken another step towards translating that data into useful information. I say they should keep it up, maybe in a few decades we can won't just hook up a machine that tells us if you are lying, we will hook up a machine that tells us where you hid the body.

    After that the next step is full mind download.

    At least uploading stuff into someone else's brain isn't difficult. Hell. I just did it to you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fastball (91927)

      "Dose she swallow?"

      Alas, some doses are bigger than others.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)

      At least uploading stuff into someone else's brain isn't difficult. Hell. I just did it to you.

      But that process is slow and unreliable, and requires a working system to receive it. Kind of like TCP/IP as opposed to drive cloning.

    • by value_added (719364) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:59PM (#27197183)

      Electricity can be measured in excruciatingly fine detail so reading minds has been possible for some time now.

      Perhaps you could explain how that's so. Seems to me that while the study is interesting enough, the results are sufficiently crude to dismiss any notion of "reading minds". Put another way, we're still at the "poke it with a stick and see what happens" stage of inquiry. Carefully calibrated poking, perhaps, but not much more.

    • we won't just hook up a machine that tells us if you are lying, we will hook up a machine that tells us where you hid the body.

      Hey! I haven't even finished implementing the file system...

    • Where is the evidence that our ability to read the mind will continue to be accurate and detailed? For all we know, it may be possible to read the bigger things, but it may be a case of diminishing returns, where the ability to precisely and reliably read a person's complex train of thought might simply not be possible. When you start talking about full mind downloads, you're making some major assumptions about the nature of the mind that the evidence at the moment simply doesn't suggest. I'm not saying it

    • by narcc (412956)

      Thoughts are just electrical signals flowing throgh your brain

      Cool idea. If you could provide some solid evidence for it, you'll have solved many very complicated problems.

  • plural (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:08PM (#27196933) Homepage Journal
    Shouldn't that be hippocampi?
    • I don't think so. The word is of Greek derivation, not Latin, so it should be hippocampodus or something like that.

      But really, it's annoying when people use the '-i' suffix for a plural when there is no basis to.

  • Not England (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:14PM (#27196961)

    Obviously, if you have a campus full of hippos, you're in the US.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Here in the US we call it the "freshman fifteen" [wikipedia.org]. Or how we referred to it when I was in college: "dorm butt" (and "dorm gut")

  • Improved learning (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mia'cova (691309) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:30PM (#27197043)

    I wonder if this kind of thing can be used to train people to better remember locations. If it could see how I respond, maybe it could help me train to use my brain more effectively. For example, train myself to make a specific kind of association I'm not used to making. Or better yet, the computer model could just do the thinking for me :)

    • Something similar to this called biofeedback training is already in use for many things. I had it offered to me as a way around my supposed learning disorder. I'm sure this imaging technique could be very useful for biofeedback training.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by buswolley (591500)
      Yes certainly. In fact I am involved in a project that will try to target train the hippocampus and working memory components of declarative episodic memory.

      Scientists know enough about the brain today that we are can design procedures that target-train a cognitive processes and see results in the neural tissues responsible for those cognitve processes.

      An example with working memory. If you commit to doing the n-back test 20 minutes daily, and gradually increase difficulty, you will not only see improveme

      • by Celc (1471887)
        I haven't heard about the n-back test before that's quite interesting. Would you recomend a source for finding out about things like the n-back test that's both truthfull and understandable for us who aren't researchers in your field? I'd really like to increase my attention span if there's proven methods for it.
  • Related Work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bazald (886779) <bazald@zenipe[ ]om ['x.c' in gap]> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:39PM (#27197103) Homepage

    Tom Mitchell et al. have done some work on differentiating memory recall of nouns. Hearing him give a talk on the subject really made me rethink some things. To what extent are different human brains structured similarly? It seems as though two people thinking about a given noun (e.g. a hammer) really have similarities in their fMRI patterns.

    Predicting Human Brain Activity Associated with the Meanings of Nouns
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080529141354.htm [sciencedaily.com]
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/320/5880/1191 [sciencemag.org]

    • by retech (1228598)
      Damn interesting links, cheers!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      These studies are actually about as unrelated as you can get. Both are trying to decode a parameter from fMRI BOLD response (as do hundreds of other studies), but they are looking at very different brain areas and different tasks. There are hundreds of rodent electrophysiology studies showing that specific hippocampal cells respond when the rodent is in a specific position in its cage. There is even a study showing spatially selective cells in the human hippocampus ( Ekstrom et al., 2003 [nature.com]).

      The really remarkab

    • It seems as though two people thinking about a given noun (e.g. a hammer) really have similarities in their fMRI patterns.

      I'm pretty sure this research doesn't say that. A separate computational model was computed for each individual subject. The successful ability to predict which noun they were thinking about is for that individual person only.

      • by bazald (886779)

        You're right that the links I pointed to don't say that. However, the presentation I attended included some results for tests in which a model trained on one person were used to determine which noun was being considered by another person. They achieved fairly high accuracy in these tests as well. (Of course the accuracy was slightly lower than when using a model trained for the subject.)

        When featured on an episode of 60 minutes, they tried using an existing model on one of the reporters and happened to a

        • OK. Yeah I saw the 60 minutes episode and it wasn't clear if they were using a pre-existing model or not.

          I believe you if it was in the presentation, but in general that is *much* harder problem since you can't really get voxel to voxel correspondence when registering brains across people.
  • Where is my Tin foil hat!!??

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by drawlight (1494543)
      What would the side effects be if you were wearing a tin foil hat inside a MRI machine? I hope it isn't anything like wearing a tin foil hat inside a microwave.
      • Re:Tin foil hat (Score:4, Informative)

        by deglr6328 (150198) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:32PM (#27197305)

        Well it would be simillar to that. aluminum is not magnetic so you wouldn't notice anything when getting into the machine, but as soon as the scan started, the ultrafast sweeping of the gradient magnet's fields that's needed to perform echo sequences with the time resolution relevant to fMRI would create HUGE ohmic heating in the conductive metal and severely burn you, if not light your hair on fire.

        • Well it would be simillar to that. aluminum is not magnetic so you wouldn't notice anything when getting into the machine, but as soon as the scan started, the ultrafast sweeping of the gradient magnet's fields that's needed to perform echo sequences with the time resolution relevant to fMRI would create HUGE ohmic heating in the conductive metal and severely burn you, if not light your hair on fire.

          Actually you should be more concerned with the RF pulse generating electrical currents in a conductive loop than anything. The gradients are pretty trivial in comparison.

  • by owlnation (858981) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:54PM (#27197155)
    Our Glorious Leader Gordon Brown-shirt is pleased to announce a major victory on he war against: terror/crime/pedophiles/obesity/knife culture/the Royal Bank of Scotland. (delete as applicable)

    We are please to announce that new mind reading technology will now be installed into all 5 million cctv cameras, airports, public houses, and anywhere else we want to.

    Thank you for your continued obedience (or else).
    • by sdpuppy (898535)
      Yes, they will install MRI magnet which require massive amounts of liquid He at 4K and costs in the range of a million $ or two in all cctv cameras, airports, public houses, and anywhere else they want to.
      Oh yeah, MRI doesn't work very well if you're more than a few feet from the magnet core

      Oh yeah yeah hold still while we scan your thoughts (wiggle wiggle)
  • I gave the original article a good solid skim. There are some truly interesting things in it, few having much to do with mind reading, even at a superficial level. The authors have presented some interesting evidence concerning how space is represented in the medial temporal lobe. The mind reading, such as it is, is not a parlor trick to make headlines. It's a demonstration that the activity in a given region is sufficient to predict a specific mental state, namely knowledge of spatial location.

    Of cours

  • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:50PM (#27197369)

    Shouldn't that be brain reading, rather than mind reading?

  • old news (Score:2, Informative)

    CBS 60 Minutes did a piece on FMRI at CMU in January. Watch it -- http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4697682n [cbsnews.com].
  • Cognitive map. That's the concept that your brain places you (and your position/posture) in the space you perceive. It has been localized to the hippocampus for decades. It has even been reliably recorded from rat brains that were replaying a learned maze while the rat was dreaming.

    The only news here is that this study used fMRI to show what's been shown many times many ways.

You are in a maze of little twisting passages, all different.

Working...