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Computer Program Reconstructs Heard Words From Brain Scans 147

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-play-them-back-in-a-really-creepy-voice dept.
sciencehabit writes "In a new study, neuroscientists connected a network of electrodes to the hearing centers of 15 patients' brains and recorded the brain activity while they listened to words like 'jazz' or 'Waldo.' They saw that each word generated its own unique pattern in the brain. So they developed two different computer programs that could reconstruct the words a patient heard just by analyzing his or her brain activity. Reconstructions from the better of the two programs were good enough that the researchers could accurately decipher the mystery word 80% to 90% percent of the time. Because there's evidence that the words we hear and the words we recall or imagine trigger similar brain processes, the study suggests scientists may one day be able to tune in to the words you're thinking."
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Computer Program Reconstructs Heard Words From Brain Scans

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  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:07PM (#38885155)

    I'm pretty sure those tin foil hats don't actually work.

    • by soundguy (415780) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:09PM (#38885175) Homepage
      The Faraday hats, however...
    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      And they can get really hot when you wear them all day, amirite?
    • by drfreak (303147) <dtarsky@gmaUMLAUTil.com minus punct> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:20PM (#38885305)

      Us men already don't think in words. Well, most of the time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
    • I'm pretty sure those tin foil hats don't actually work.

      I think in four different languages. I wonder how much overlap there is between them. Do phonetically-similar words in different languages stimulate the same brain centers, or do words with the same meaning? How about synonyms? Proper nouns? Proper nouns with different names in different languages?

    • by Herve5 (879674) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @06:48AM (#38889267)

      My concern, long-term, is quite the contrary.
      If this kind of interface works, we'll rapidly be obliged to think *everything* in words, painfully.

      The situation will be back to the medieval times where reading meant reading aloud -indeed the writing was intended to be read aloud. There is a very interesting moment around that time when very scarce educated people start considering reading without talking, for instance, and this is documented (in writing! ;-) by witnesses from the time, who are baffled.

      Liberating our reading from the necessity of reading aloud has been something extremely important for our thinking, an importance now almost forgotten.

      if we switch to a world where every thought has to be almost vocalized to be interpreted by surrounding machinery, we'll lose our "fast reading" capacity, and I fear we may lose too the capacity to think fast. Really, back to early Middle Ages...

      • by alreaud (2529304)
        Conversely, if electromagnetic radiation is getting out, electromagnetic radiation can get in.

        If the computer program can detect the electrical brain signals corresponding to a word, then the reverse algorithm can send electromagnetic radiation to the brain that mimics the signal corresponding to the word. If strong enough, that could override naturally occurring electrical signals in the brain.

        Those tin hat guys may be on to something...;-)
    • This is a current undetermined hypothesis. One evidence is how weak our memories are before were acquire language. My memories before age 3 are more flashes of sensation than systematic. Much of memory may require the scaffold of language.
    • by Khashishi (775369)

      You aren't really thinking in words except when actually listening or speaking or writing or imagining words. The words you hear are quickly translated into brain patterns (called schemata) which happens almost automatically for languages you are fluent in. This happens in short term memory which lasts mere seconds. The idea that you think in words (closely related to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) is mostly discredited.

      So, if you are thinking about bombing the White House, I suggest not thinking about the act

  • Possible app... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mark-t (151149)
    Did anybody else think that this sort of technology could really help with detecting lies?
    • Re:Possible app... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:25PM (#38885335) Homepage Journal
      Based on the articles (and other articles using "mind reading" for lie detection) the apparatus would have to be calibrated to each person.

      So in 20 years, when the Department of Homeland Security conducts an involuntary "health and wellness" check for your residence, it would be in your best interests to think of something "out there," such as a transexual Asian prostitute shooting ping-pong balls out of her ass.

      Then you could behave like Multiple Migs [youtube.com] and toss one off in their face.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by somersault (912633)

      No, no that was just you. You're a very unique and special person. Possibly a genius. We could do with more comments like that on Slashdot. People here never point out obvious (ab)uses of technology.

      *facepalm*

      *sob*

    • No. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Did anybody else think that this sort of technology could really help with detecting lies?

      No. I thought it would be misused {and/or fake), produce the wrong results and innocent people would pay for the crimes of others.

      I also thought that it would become another tool of the burgeoning american police state and good for the Jail Industrial complex.

    • Re:Possible app... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tobiah (308208) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @02:56AM (#38888091)

      Brains aren't the best place to seek truth

    • I think it could be used to directly extract information from people's brains. Why bother asking when you use rsync?

      • by tobiah (308208)

        The brain doesn't work that way. You could trigger a thought, and then extract the thought as it happens. But is it a memory, or a response to the trigger? Is the memory real, or was it planted earlier? There is little difference in the brain between remembering that someone said something, and remembering that you were told that someone said it.

        • But is it a memory, or a response to the trigger? Is the memory real, or was it planted earlier?

          Its the same with any other storage system. The information is what it is.

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:13PM (#38885219)
    Hopefully one can apply such technology to the politics soon. The program may be disoriented though, as when a word comes out from a politician mouth, the computer using the real true paths of the brain will understand the exact opposite of such word.
    • I remember, back during the tv series (non-animated), Robocop couldn't tell if a politician was lying because he was so used to never really telling the truth with the words he uses everyday. Hilarious excuse for why Murphy couldn't figure out what was going on.

    • by mooingyak (720677)

      I hold to the belief that the 'best' politicians (where 'best' here means having the most skill at being a politician) actually believe what they are saying while they are saying it. Before and after they know it's BS, but it's so much easier to come across as authentic if you truly believe in what you're saying, even if only for a short while.

  • At least we'd know that their brains heard and recognized the words.... whether or not they actually understood them is left for another system to determine.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt&lynx,bc,ca> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:17PM (#38885259) Journal
    • Allow disabled people to use a computer without a keyboard
    • Sending email or a text message without even having to use equipment like a cell phone (for example "call my lawyer, I'm being arrested for looking Arabic!").
    • Technology enabled telepathy

    Man... the 21st century is gonna be so cool!

    • by fatbuckel (1714764) <fatbuckel1@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:28PM (#38885369)
      Or those who will use it for evil, to "prove" that a person was contemplating acts of terror or other crimes. We all know the police don`t have to be 100% sure to arrest suspects. If their "brainscanner" says 60% probability for the word bomb at the airport....
    • Right up until your SO demands to be tapped into your thoughts 24/7.

      The freedom of my mind to wander in private is sacred to me.

      • Then you make that person insignificant to you, your ISO ;)

        Your logic means we can't have knives in our homes because your SO might get angry and stab you.

    • by Guppy (12314)

      Allow disabled people to use a computer without a keyboard

      I hope this because sufficient reliably and compact that we can get Professor Hawking one, before he loses the last vestiges of voluntary muscular control.

    • by PSVMOrnot (885854)

      • Allow disabled people to use a computer without a keyboard
      • Sending email or a text message without even having to use equipment like a cell phone (for example "call my lawyer, I'm being arrested for looking Arabic!").
      • Technology enabled telepathy

      Man... the 21st century is gonna be so cool!

      • The first, is entirely possible, and is currently doable in a primative but semi-portable state with EEG.
      • The second is a really bad idea; have you not seen/read the forbidden planet. Basicly, mind controlled technology is a monumentally bad idea.
      • The third, perhaps in the sense of truth-saying. What the guys in the article will be reading is a limited set of words, and they can only do it because they have enough samples of each word to train their program in

      But, yeah, the 21st century will be cool

    • Record music DIRECTLY FROM YOUR BRAIN (look mom, no instruments!)

      Also this is the voice input part of GiTS-like electronic telepathy.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        And just imagine the copyright violation potential! You could be arrested for even *thinking* of music that you hadn't bought a license for! Man, the RIAA is gonna be so into this.
      • Allow disabled people to use a computer without a keyboard
      • Sending email or a text message without even having to use equipment like a cell phone (for example "call my lawyer, I'm being arrested for looking Arabic!").
      • Technology enabled telepathy

      Man... the 21st century is gonna be so cool!

      Except after reading that - my lawyer would be now being called and he would be wondering about the Arabic part ;)

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:28PM (#38885371) Journal

    69 dude!

    • by goldaryn (834427)

      69 dude!

      This is odd, all the blood is draining out of his brain, and a small tent has appeared in his.... oh!

  • by U8MyData (1281010) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:28PM (#38885379)
    We are f*cked, seriously. If this kind of thing gets out and is exploited for commercial or polical purposes there will not be enough room in the "hills" for everyone. I think my next career will be in techological responsibility and law. I don't need to remind anyone here that the "man" has finally taken ownership of policing technology. The day I have feared for most of my career is finally here.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Or we could demand brain scans of politicians to see what they really intend to do if elected. But I guess defeatism works too.

      • by webheaded (997188)
        Right, because the proper response isn't to say that no one should have to suffer this kind of technology but to instead use it on the people we don't like. Except that, you know...those same people are the ones who would be in control of whether they had their brains scanned or not. I'm sure they'd all agree to that just like they'll agree on a bill in Congress to ban lobbyists. Right? And hey, that isn't hypocrisy either. How about we just not scan anyone's brain by force. I'm down for that. You wa
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:31PM (#38885403)
    "Must think in Russian."

    [ For you youngsters, see Firefox [wikipedia.org]. ]

  • "You must think in Russian, think in Russian"

    Obligatory Firefox quote...

    (Clint Eastwood had to think in Russian to fire weapons on his brain reading stolen Russian Fighter plane in "Firefox")
  • For this experiment, electrodes had to be *surgically implanted* into the test persons' skull. It's not like they remotely measured their electrical brain activity. So for now you can relax ...
    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      electrodes had to be *surgically implanted* into the test persons' skull.

      Looks like it's time for everyone to upgrade to the titanium hat.

  • Well Waldo was the nickname of one of my girlfriends who used to do kinky things to me. She didn't wear glasses or wear stripy sweaters either. So I wonder what they are actually scanning - the word sound or the memory of the word?
    Maybe that'll account for those in the 10-20% range who don't register all to well.

  • by rykin (836525)
    I'm surprised no one has yet to point out the best potential target of such a device: women. We don't even need to know what they're thinking. We simply can use the device as it is currently to see if what we say is what they hear.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I seriously hope they develop the technology well enough to use it for Stephen Hawking while he's still with us. Imagine hearing him speak at the rate he thinks!

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      3 ways it could go:
      So fast, it's like listening to a dolphin
      Same speed, but only really big words he's been dying to use for decades but didn't have time to spell out.
      Math. All math all the time. i.e equations to describe what he wants for breakfast.

  • Wake me up when they get to 3D images.
  • Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Kadir beneath Mo Moteh!
  • Because there's evidence that the words we hear and the words we recall or imagine trigger similar brain processes, the study suggests scientists may one day be able to tune in to the words you're thinking.

    So the TSA should be rolling this out in 2-3 years whether it's ready or not. I can see it now. They'll be monitoring how peoples brain reacts while a recoding recites works like: "Bomb" "Ammonium nitrate" "Communist" Or the program states you are thinking the following: "5 oz. of toothpaste" "Bottled water" "Why are these fucking idiots doing this?" Clearly only a terrorist would think such things.

  • So one must have *individual* apriori scans for intelligible interpretation... meh.
  • Anyone who's seen Total Recall knows:

    1. Technology can only write data to the brain
    2. It takes a freaky-looking mutant to read the data

    Anyway, there's a difference between observing patterns in the way a person's neurons react to hearing a word and actually reading their thoughts. And I'm sure everyone fires different neurons when they hear the same thing... probably just as unique as a fingerprint.

    • When someone says Farrel is going to play Hauser in the 2012 remake of Total Recall, my mind is thinking "Will Ferrell is totally wrong for that part!"
    • Another person is thinking Colin Farrell might make a good Hauser (just kidding, no one is thinking that... Have you seen The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus?).
    • Another person is thinking "is Hollywood just going to remake everything to death?"
    • And yet another person is thinking, "I wonder what they're serving for lunch today."

    Bonus points if you thought all four.

  • by simoncpu was here (1601629) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @12:00AM (#38886749)
    This technology can be used to inhibit stuttering for persons with this disorder. You see, there's this phenomenon where stuttering can be inhibited if a stutterer speaks in approximate unison with other speakers (choral speech). A device was thus developed that attempts to mimic choral speech by echoing a stutterer's speech with a few milliseconds delay (delayed auditory feedback). It's effective, but not 100% effective since a stutter needs to overcome the initial stuttering block (i.e., he needs to speak so that it can be echoed later). With this technology, a device can simply read your mind so that you can speak in unison with the "mind reading device". I hope there would be a portable version of this soon.
  • just don't give one to the wife
  • "the study suggests scientists may one day be able to tune in to the words you're thinking."

    too bad it's allready been done.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19726466.000-hightech-necklace-can-speak-your-mind.html [newscientist.com]

    • Apparently that was supposed to be released onto the market in 2008, but there's no news of it since then. Looks like it's vaporware :-(

  • I think this'll be pretty cool in practice.

    Imagine that; once this kind of system is in place, all I'd have to do to shut down my computer, for example, is to simply think of the word 'shutdo

  • If you are born completely deaf, what language do you think in?
    • If you are born completely deaf, what language do you think in?

      English - its the standard language - Just shout loud enough and even deaf people will understand. :)

  • eye for one do eye really want to use that meme everyone uses that damn meme eye for one welcome what brain something oh yeah baby why don't eye oh my god what is that alt eff four alt eff four ---- huh what the ---- was that beep there it is again neural interface help contents beep a beep indicates that the automatic profanity filter is currently enabled well we can't have that ---- file setting deselect automatic profanity filter apply fuck fuck fuck fuck okay much better now none of that goddam beeping

  • "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should. "
  • Computer Program Reconstructs Heard Words From Brain Scans

    Hard enough to parse visually, good luck using brain scans to figure that out. First 3 times I read that, I thought it was describing reconstructing computer programs using brain scans, and my first thought was, yeah, that'll work for COBOL or its modern equivalent java, now lets try something interesting like reading a Intercal programmers mind, or maybe an assembly language wizard, that'll probably crash it. What its actually discussing is not nearly as interesting.

  • Maybe words are localized to the parts of brain that control vocal muscles. (or gestures if you speak sign) Each word is a muscle pattern of how you speak it.

    Or words are tied to the sensations and experiences they invoke. Or maybe words are combination of both muscle and sensual memory. This study could help reveal that.

    Exceptional language like people who never speak but hear, or vice versa could have different brain patterns for words. Or they might have similar patterns because the brain recycle
  • Just think of what the ability to spy on internal dialogues within the brain might do in both civil and crimminal court cases. Talk about self incrimination! We could even know what lawyers are thinking in every conversation with clients. And think about salesmen if their internal dialogues could be studied for the last week or so before you say yes to their offer. I sold vacations at on epoint and when i buyer said yes we would scream dump two in the pit. the pit was the so-called luxury accomodations

  • Tension, apprehension,
    And dissension have begun.

COBOL is for morons. -- E.W. Dijkstra

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