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MRIs That Read Your Thoughts

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the you' dept.

Technology 28

Nicholas Roussos writes "Functional MRIs have been used in several studies to accurately predict what volunteers were looking at even when they themselves were unsure. According to the BBC, 'When two images were flashed in quick succession, the volunteers only consciously saw the second one and were unable to make out the first. But the brain scans clearly distinguished the patterns of brain activity created by the "invisible" images.'"

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Hah! (2, Funny)

SwimsWithTheFishes (842420) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340137)

If they use that MRI to read my mind, they all will go blind!

Exciting? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Commando (6326) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340178)

"You could use it to detect people's prejudices, intuition and things that are hidden and influence our behaviour... it is exciting."

Ok, I'm not normally part of the tinfoil-hat brigade, but this guy scares the living hell out of me...

Stay the hell out of my mind, we don't need the thought police.

Re:Exciting? (4, Funny)

mchawi (468120) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340257)

You read my mind.

Re:Exciting? (2, Funny)

oever (233119) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340429)

they could tell what a person was thinking deep down even when the individual was unaware themselves.

How Zen is that?

Re:Exciting? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12341339)

1) Look. Have you seen the size of MRI equipment? Who could sneak that on you?

2) Can you read? "You could use it". Don't you realize by now that 90% of headlines and soundbites (for EVERYTHING, not just /.) are ridiculously overstated for effect? Like those people who claim to be learning 40 languages, so you think they'll be as fluent in 40 languages as you are in english, but in reality, they're learning "hello" in 40 languages? Or like this MRI claim, probably made by a university student so s/he can get his paper?

Do you really think we (the human race) has the knowledge to decode thought patterns on a wholesale basis? At best, you can correlate ONE PERSON'S prejudices to a certain pattern on a certain MRI, but only because you already knew the result before hand.

Re:Exciting? (1)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 9 years ago | (#12347430)

> Do you really think we (the human race) has the knowledge to decode thought patterns on a wholesale basis? At best, you can correlate ONE PERSON'S prejudices to a certain pattern on a certain MRI, but only because you already knew the result before hand.

Then you scan everyone, regularly, to establish a baseline and to watch how it changes over time. Anyone who refuses to submit to a scan has something to hide - or in the case of children, has parents with something to hide.

You see that as impractical and intrusive. I see it as contracts worth billions of taxpayer dollars. Dollars well-spent to secure our children's vulnerable minds from those who would do them harm.

Re:Exciting? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 9 years ago | (#12350943)

Do you really think we (the human race) has the knowledge to decode thought patterns on a wholesale basis? At best, you can correlate ONE PERSON'S prejudices to a certain pattern on a certain MRI, but only because you already knew the result before hand.

Yes, but pointing out the scary bits before they start happening is actually useful -- even if it seems simple paranoia/tin-foil hat responses.

Think of those tests which they can do to see if you might have a genetic pre-disposition towards getting cancer. The classic tin-foil hat response is what happens if the Insurance companies start requiring it, and not insuring you if you might be pre-disposed.

In this case, the spooky ramifications of some guy saying "You could use it to detect people's prejudices, intuition and things that are hidden and influence our behaviour" feel rather alarming.

How many companies subject their employees to lie-detector tests? The ramifications of they saying "well, we've scanned your brain and have determined you're a bigot and are likely to kick cats" are scary -- and you can bet there will be a push of people wanting to use this in a bunch of scenarios.

When people start thinking they might just want to run you through the Acme Thought Validator for anything -- job, insurance, not getting deported, getting elected, getting out of jail, or ANYTHING, it's rather scary. Hell, people still act like a lie-detector is based on meaningful science and actually tells us anything.

I guess I'm inclined a little more towards a very cynical and untrusting view of these things. But I won't be putting my head into any such thing to be mapped out by the man.

That's not all. All of your patentable ideas.... (1)

UnapprovedThought (814205) | more than 9 years ago | (#12341528)

"are belong to" someone else. It shouldn't be too difficult to make people sign a form that buried somewhere within is a clause that any ideas retrieved during the treatment become the property of the equipment vendor.

Your thoughts or reactions could be sold to advertisers, since it will be easier to determine what actually motivates you to buy or perks your interest.

Of course, any unapproved thoughts or reactions captured during the procedure will be reported to the appropriate agencies.

"Why didn't you smile when the picture of the Great Leader was shown?"

Very exciting... (5, Interesting)

RM6f9 (825298) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340310)

C'mon! I mean, who hasn't secretly harbored a desire to hack the most complex OS we know of, the one that (mostly) resides in approx. 3 lbs of wet-ware? Being able to identify responses to specific stimuli with *objective* accuracy is a HUGE step - next will be cross-subject verification of which portions of the patterns are stimulus-specific vs. subject-specific, then the massive database project of "These signals equal these thoughts", then direct brain language (independent of verbal languages)... On a different track, we'll have signal transmission direct to brain, and THAT's when my tin-hat goes onto my head.

Re:Very exciting... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12341372)

I'd love to identify that part of my brain that gives me the urge to shove my cock in your face, for example. So I can make it bigger. The brain part, not the cock.

BTW, why don't you read Commitment Hour for a nice little sci-fi treatment of the possibilities of techno to brain interfaces?

Unfortunately (3, Insightful)

Corpus_Callosum (617295) | more than 9 years ago | (#12344330)

Unfortunately, any behavior that is learned rather than instictual will show pattern responses that are unique in every brain. It should be possible to map out sexual response, hunger, pain and other instictual (read: built-in) programming.

But a database for other stuff would be person specific. A general purpose mind-reader is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Re:Unfortunately? (1)

RM6f9 (825298) | more than 9 years ago | (#12350152)

Granted it will be a long time coming, but: show stimulus X in as tightly controlled a situation as possible to as wide a range of subjects as possible, while major portions of the records of their responses will be subject-specific, they *will* have similarities. Same stimulus, different environment, same subject allows the potential to narrow the stimulus-specific objective response pattern even further, maybe even revealing the portion of the record that is environment-objective similar when compared across subjects.
The ultimate game of MasterMind...

Yes but... (4, Insightful)

Cyclotron_Boy (708254) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340329)

to quote TFA "That's a long way off, but it is exciting." It is indeed a long, long way off. Specifically, the experiments involved only detected & predicted what the brain was seeing. The predition part was only demonstrating that the brain might see something, but not understand/decode immediately. The computer detected the visual input, but the brain didn't process it. This is a long way from predicting prejudices, fears, and phobias.

But on the other hand, we might not be cognisent of subliminal cues that trigger anger, fear, rejection, etc. in the brain, but the computer might be able to detect the triggers more readily/quickly/reliably. Who knows? We (and Big Brother) will have to see...

and the ubiquitous "I for one welcome our mind-reading computer-aided MRI overlords."

They totally misunderstand their own research. (4, Insightful)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340394)

A team at University College London found with fMRI they could tell what a person was thinking deep down even when the individual was unaware themselves.
This research may present novel information, but this is not what you were "thinking deep down". Many parts of your brain do their processing automatically and without conscious intervention. If you break the part of your brain that identifies objects visually for cognition, but do not break the part of your brain that identifies objects visually for physical use, you can use objects that you cannot consciously identify. You could use a kleenex without knowing that it was on your desk ahead of time.

It should be completely unsurprising that without being aware of an image being flashed, other ("unaware") parts of your brain are doing things with that image. That doesn't mean that it's what you were "thinking deep down".
"This is the first basic step to reading somebody's mind "


Researcher Dr Geraint Rees
This quote is in reference to fMRI detecting whether you are paying attention to vertical stripes or diagonal stripes. It is well known that parts of the primate visual cortex are dedicated to identifying verticle and horizontal lines. This is like saying that Neil Armstrong's first breath was the first step towards Alpha Centauri. Yeah, maybe. Maybe not.

Re:They totally misunderstand their own research. (2, Insightful)

Pinefresh (866806) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340964)

Or maybe the BBC misunderstands the research. Or maybe they're trying to make it simple enough for everyone to understand.

Or you could just mount a camera on a helmet (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340417)

It would do the same thing.

HamsterCam, ne1?

Re:Or you could just mount a camera on a helmet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12346029)

HamsterCam, ne1?

I sure am happy no one can read my mind right now...

Step 1: HamsterWebCam
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!!

Re:Or you could just mount a camera on a helmet (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12348966)

I sure am happy no one can read my mind right now...

Step 1: HamsterWebCam
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!!


Beware of the Dark Hamster, Luke ... that path leads to destruction.

OK, now we have the passsive side. (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340679)

Now that the passive side is well on its way to completion, all we a missing is the active side. I can see it now - movie theaters install MRIs to make you hunger for their bad popcorn and overpriced drinks. Car dealers install MRIs that cause you to accept rustproofing even if you live in Southern Nevada. Appliance dealers in Alaska use MRIs to sell freezers to their Inuit customers.

The IRS uses them so that you will actually enjoy paying taxes.

etc.

Re:OK, now we have the passsive side. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12344991)

Yes, we all know the applications of mind-control. This article states that MRIs can be used to identify what is being looked at, NOT that they can be used to influence our thoughts. If it was the case that MRIs could influence thoughts it is unlikely that retailers or the like would want to install one on their property. They would still have to ask you to step into the MRI machine. Can you imagine? "Excuse me sir, could you step into this mind-controlling MRI?" "What if the MRI was setup in an exposed, vertical fashion so that you would walk through it on your way in?" Equally ridiculous. The enormous magnetic field would yank any metal objects you possess towards it. Assuming, that an MRI could be retrofitted towards mind-control, the retailer would have a customer wanting to buy a useless product but missing an arm which happened to be attached to a metal watch. An MRI is not my first choice for commercial mind-control

A Few weeks too late (-1, Troll)

hattan (869918) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340972)

And to think we could have saved Terri Schiavo..

The BBC article is a common kind of media fraud... (4, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 9 years ago | (#12341262)


The BBC article is a common kind of media fraud, in my opinion. The BBC, to make its article more interesting, has vastly over-extended what the science shows. The researchers themselves commonly participate in this kind of fraud, as is shown in this quote from the article,

"When volunteers were shown a plaid pattern made up of two different sets of stripes but asked to pay attention to only one set, the program was able to tell which one the subjects were thinking about."

"Dr Rees said: 'This is the first basic step to reading somebody's mind...' "

Complete baloney. It was the first step toward detecting what someone was doing when they cooperated fully.

Fraud, fraud, fraud. BBC, you should be ashamed of yourself.

MRI? (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 9 years ago | (#12341359)

Midichlorian Resonance Imaging?

These are not the brainscans you are looking for...

Positive Uses (1)

Frumious Wombat (845680) | more than 9 years ago | (#12349197)

It would be nice to have this followed up. An interesting friday science article in the Wall Street Journal commented on how suspects could be browbeaten into confessing (and believing in) a crime they didn't commit. It would be interesting to investigate whether you could tell the difference between actually did the crime, and merely has been convinced they did the crime.

Take Off (1)

Arcane_Rhino (769339) | more than 9 years ago | (#12351820)

my tin-foil hat they said...

see? SEE?

mmmble grmble

Some info on fMRI (2, Informative)

ControlFreal (661231) | more than 9 years ago | (#12358008)

I work in the analysis of fMRI data, so it might be good to disspell some myth and provide some key info.

fMRI is derived from "normal" MRI, and in fact, any fMRI scanner can also make a normal MRI. MRI, or actually, NMRI, stands for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The "N" for Nuclear is usually not included in the abbreviation because it seems to make the public nervous. An MRI makes an image by using a radio-frequency magnetic field to excite a magnetic spin-state in the nuclei of hydrogen atoms (i.e., in single protons); the more an area resonates, the more the measured signal is modulated, and the higher the hydrogen concentration assumed to be (typically that means: the higher the water-concentration is). Imaging can be done on a three dimensional grid, because the exact frequency at which the spin-state is excited can be modulated by static (compared to the RF field) magnetic fields. To this end, a large static field (1-7 Tesla) and 2 auxiliary fields are used to determine at which point in the grid the resonance takes place. This, then, is done for each point in the grid. The result is a 3D proton (or water) density map of the brain (usually refered to as the "anatomy (map)" by people working in the field).

In functional MRI (fMRI), one takes the MRI process one step further by exploting the paramagnetic properties of oxygen; the amount of oxygen (in the blood, attached to hemoglobine) present in a certain area will modulate the proton spin resonance frequency as well, and this extra modulation can be measured. In this way, one can also make an oxygen-density map (one has to correct and compensate for a lot of things here, but that's a long story).

The oxygen density map can be used, because areas in the brain that are active "draw blood" towards themselves. This is called the BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) response. Typically, this response lags one to a couple of seconds behind the actual activation of the brain area; in the fMRI data, one sees the signal in that area become higher. One can thus detect which areas of the brain are active.

The trick that the article describes is sometimes called brain state prediction, and that's a more difficult problem. Typically, one measures the fMRI signal while first supplying stimulus "1" N times, and them stimulus "2" N times. Determining which areas are active for stimulus "1" OR "2" (or both), usually has a reasonable SNR; based on the measured example, something simple like an F-test will suffice. However, given which part of the brain is active for either, the task of determining which of these active areas correspond more to simimulus "1" or "2", is more diffucult: usually the entire active area responds to both responses, and the difference is in the magnitude (or delay, or width) of the BOLD response in that area w.r.t. stimulus "1" or "2". These difference (sometimes expressed in a Contrast-to-Noise Ratio), is much smaller than the SNR for the activation. Consequently, this is an active research area.

To disspell some myths: the fMRI data can only be obtained using a HUGE scanner, and your head has to be completely inside. Furthermore, the sampling frequency is rather low (1.5 seconds between scans, usually), and the spatial resolution isn't that high either (64x64x64 voxels, in that order of magnitude).

Re:Some info on fMRI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12360669)

umm, you sound like your a man who know`s what he`s talking about. very impressive indeed. i only have one question for you. when "666" becomes mandatory and you take the "mark"...what good will all this knowledge get you?

Voter intent (1)

Veinor (871770) | more than 9 years ago | (#12359814)

This could turn into the Thought Police from 1984. Also, if people decide to use this to eliminate the problem of 'voter intent', what happens if people see an elephant right before they vote? They might wind up voting Republican, especially if they see an image of a red elephant.
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