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Scientists Predicting Intentions

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the science-of-mind-reading dept.

Science 105

An anonymous reader writes to tell us German scientists claim to have the means of predicting decisions of high level mental activity. "In the past, experts had been able to detect decisions about making physical movements in advance. But researchers at Berlin's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience claim they have now, for the first time, identified people's decisions about how they would later do a high-level mental activity _ in this case, adding versus subtracting."

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Suspicion (5, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242632)

My first reaction is suspicion.... suspicion of a whole lot of possibilities regardless of whether or not this work has any validity. For instance, I've talked with more than one DOD general who was interested in military applications of electroencephalograms for "mind reading" and such. Certainly there are some applications for lie detection such as the P300, but one has to be very careful about the structure of the interview so as to not attempt to extract non-meaningful information from an evoked potential. My concern is that a whole bunch of additional DARPA type money will suddenly be thrown at the problem and claims will be made that will further impinge upon individual rights and freedoms waaaaaay before even the science is understood (not that understanding science is an excuse to stomp on civil liberties).

My more immediate concern is of the claims that are being made. The fundamental problem of course is developing a global signature for mind reading that is clean enough to derive robust statistics, keeping in mind that individuals brains are far from uniform in their anatomy, physiology or wiring. Work I performed more than a decade ago revealed similar cortical mapping patterns on subjects who performed tasks and then imagined performing those tasks. Certainly it is possible to determine volitional movements based upon our knowledge of neuroanatomy and statistical averages of wiring, but predicting "intentions" is a whole other ball game. The article is light on details and I've tried a search on more in-depth content, but if they are labeling "intentions" as complex behaviors, my eyebrows will be raised. For instance, determining which of two buttons to press invokes a whole series of kinesthetic volitional programming that should be able to be determined by mapping pre-motor cortex. However, if "intentions" are whether or not to engage in complex behaviors are what they are talking about, there is much more complex circuitry to consider including the possibility of imagery or imagining an action versus actually volitionally engaging in that activity.

Re:Suspicion (5, Funny)

nomadic (141991) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242812)

My first reaction is suspicion

As I knew it would be!

Re:Suspicion (2, Funny)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242896)

OK, I almost sprayed coffee all over my keyboard and displays. Somebody mod this as funny!

Re:Suspicion (1)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243076)

I predict that no one will read this article.

Re:Suspicion (1)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243042)

if they are labeling "intentions" as complex behaviors, my eyebrows will be raised.
Not really intentions, but predictions. Apparently, from the binary decision test of adding or subtracting, they could predict within 70% certainty which path they would take. However, the article mentioned far reaching Orwellian type implications of this technology - like lie detection systems, which are about 70% reliable currently, so I see no improvement on that end. Of course, there's still much research and application to be done (and I would personally like to donate my brain to assist them if I could just borrow it back during the weekdays).

Re:Suspicion (1)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243058)

Oops. I meant to click on the GP reply button. I guess the humorous parent diverted my intention.

Re:Suspicion (1)

ravenfan (1070656) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243260)

Perhaps "intention" isn't the right word to be using here. What the researchers are trying to correlation areas of the brain with certain tasks. The brain controls everything you do, from breathing to posting on slashdot. Therefore, if they can "map" tasks to brain activity they can "predict intent". In the grand scheme of things, it would be impossible for people to predict "intentions" unless they can make an MRI the size of a hand-held device.

Re:Suspicion (1)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243438)

Perhaps "intention" isn't the right word to be using here.

Intention is precisely the right word that describes what they are trying to do as they are claiming to be able to *predict* an individuals course of action *before* it happens.

The brain controls everything you do, from breathing to posting on slashdot.

Really? Do tell... :-) Seriously though, I'd like to think that posting on Slashdot required cortical activity, but some of the posts I see appear to have been made by "lower" structures, like the brainstem.

Therefore, if they can "map" tasks to brain activity they can "predict intent".

It is actually a harder task than this as predicting complex behaviors from complex systems is not always so straight forward. Emergent behaviors are not uncommon in complex systems for instance and when you throw in imagination, things get harder still.

In the grand scheme of things, it would be impossible for people to predict "intentions" unless they can make an MRI the size of a hand-held device.

Again, not necessarily the case. There are projects underway to do much more with complex systems and they are not beholden on hand held devices. After all, what many institutions and security checkpoints require is a passageway. Devices can be as large as required at these points.

Re:Suspicion (1)

khanyisa (595216) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247618)

Perhaps "intention" isn't the right word to be using here.

Intention is precisely the right word that describes what they are trying to do as they are claiming to be able to *predict* an individuals course of action *before* it happens.

I'd rather see it as they're reading a *decision* that is made in the brain. That decision could of course be changed; who knows what the device would read if someone decided in advance to change their decision when the actual numbers appeared?

Re:Suspicion (4, Interesting)

yali (209015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243680)

Here's how this stuff works. Step 1, scientist do incremental, meaningful, but boring (to those outside their specialty) work. Step 2, media picks up on story and puts overreaching spin on story. (Alternatively, the scientists, the journal, or the university's PR office puts out a press release supplying overreaching spin to credulous journalists.) Step 3, everybody sits back in wonderment at a finding that essentially establishes what we already knew: that mental processes take place in the physical brain.

Parent poster is right about the special demands of individual prediction. The basic science might be incrementally useful - trying to ultimately understand how future planning/intentions take place in the brain. (And given the breadth of mental operations that could be considered "intentions," there are probably hundreds of more studies that need to be done before that question can begin to be answered.) But going from a scientific explanatory mode, where you have potentially large samples and budgets and cooperative subjects, to prediction of individual behavior is a huge leap. Just look at a much older psychometric approach, the TAT, which is okay for research [psychologicalscience.org] but lousy for individual prediction [psychologicalscience.org] . Brain scanning may well turn out to be the next TAT, for precisely the same reasons.

Part of the problem is that a lot of this work is being done by medical researchers and neuroscientists who have no basic training in psychometrics. They're just reinventing old mistakes (but wasting a hell of a lot more money this time around).

Re:Suspicion (2, Interesting)

drfireman (101623) | more than 7 years ago | (#18246460)

There's no question that fMRI researchers have an ugly history of reinventing old mistakes. But I don't know that a lack of training in psychometrics is the problem. More to the point, is it really true that "going from a scientific explanatory mode, where you have potentially large samples and budgets and cooperative subjects, to prediction of individual behavior is a huge leap?"

Well, sort of. My impression is that this has little to do with a lack of training in psychometrics, but a lot to do with the more general problem, evident to anyone who reviews the occasional fMRI article, that researchers like to make unquantified (or improperly quantified) observations. Most often the data are there, just not analyzed properly. This is really just a basic issue with the use and reporting of inferential statistics.

That said, I don't honestly see that it's a big issue here. It seems like the authors did something sort of reasonable and drew mostly reasonable conclusions (I say this without having given it the close reading I reserve for research I really care about). My sense is that the desire to overextend the results is coming more from the reporting of the article and less from the reporting in the article. In other words, it's not clear to me who needs the training in psychometrics.

Peer review & "the north Florida daily news" (1)

speardane (905475) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243750)

have you read the article & it's provenance?

I found no links or reference to this pseudo science.

This seems an "exciting" topic with little or no real substance, please provide the substantiation.

or has global warming brought warm temperatures & the August silly season early?

Re:Suspicion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18243946)

My first reaction is suspicion....

But they already knew that.

Re:Suspicion (4, Informative)

venicebeach (702856) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244002)

Also, fMRI will never be able to predict intentions in real time due to the hemodynamic lag, and is currently practically impossible to analyze online due technical limitations. What they did was use information which occured before the decision to predict which decision was later made. However, this analysis was done after the decision was made . That is to say, after the scans were over, the data from the few seconds before the decision was found to be predictive of which way the decision went. So it's not like they really knew what was going to happen before it did.

Re:Suspicion (1)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244106)

Excellent point. You of course, given your background would be ideally prepared to make this observation.

Mod parent up!

Re:Suspicion (1)

redmondi (1036210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244206)

This is another small step in proving that free will is a myth and that Determinism is the real truth! You aren't really making decisions - your brain is merely responding to environmental cues... action/reaction and so forth. ...Just my f'd up view on the way things work...

Re:Suspicion (1)

Plutonite (999141) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244286)

Indeed. Most issues will probably arise out of the fact that "intent" to perform an action is not exclusive as mental activity that excites certain cortical regions. What you said about *imagining* an activity makes perfect sense. In fact, the "intent" to add or subtract in the future probably falls in line with imagination more than volitonal activity.

I've only studied this at the undergrad level (then independently afterwards), but I also would regard this with extreme suspicion. Some people believe that practically all our conceptual reasoning (no pre-motor cortex here) is a matter of manipulating memory. We recognize and understand concepts only in terms of others, until you get down to very early stage developmental associations that are visual in nature. This would mean that adding, intending to add, asking someone else to add or thinking about addition in general should produce similar activity and thus mappings. The "circuitry" as you call it is complex enough to make the biology almost impossible to attempt, until we are able to understand (and detect)how exactly thoughts are formulated on a case-by-case basis. I'm willing to bet that won't happen in the next 100 years at least.

It will get much worse... (1)

wax66 (736535) | more than 7 years ago | (#18248880)

If the contents of your brain are finite, and the universe is finite (mind bogglingly large, but still finite), then given a powerful enough computer with enough data, it can all be computed and predicted.

For now they only have the power to predict motions in the short-term. Soon they will be able to predict aggressive or anti-social behavior based on past behaviors. Then they'll be able to monitor a whole person's life and be able to tell with great accuracy what a decision will be based on the person's past experiences and biology. Etc, etc.

It's not paranoia, it's simple mathematical logic. I don't care if they monitor me and let me know what I'm thinking.

Re:Suspicion (1)

ioshhdflwuegfh (1067182) | more than 7 years ago | (#18248986)

The fundamental problem of course is developing a global signature for mind reading that is clean enough to derive robust statistics, keeping in mind that individuals brains are far from uniform in their anatomy, physiology or wiring.
Why is that "the fundamental problem"?

A bit ambiguous (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242678)

What is likely, is they can't tell whether you will buy a PS3 or an XBox 360, but rather you are going to press the "left button" vs the "right button" when shown a simple image like a green/red square.

Re:A bit ambiguous (2, Funny)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245004)

What is likely, is they can't tell whether you will buy a PS3 or an XBox 360

Sheesh, I can tell you that... they ain't gonna buy a PS3.

devil's advocate (3, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242698)

researchers at Berlin's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience claim they have now, for the first time, identified people's decisions about how they would later do a high-level mental activity _ in this case, adding versus subtracting."

A big portion of the work of prosecution in this country is spent proving intent. For example, the funny-looking guy that hangs out at the playground. Is he a creep, or is he just a birdwatcher? Obviously, a scanning device would figure that out pretty quick.

(... And I guarantee you that's the same kind of argument they'll make when pushing this thing, too. Because it's all about protecting the children. even at the expense of your fourth amendment rights.)

Re:devil's advocate (2, Insightful)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243110)

You can prove intent, but intent is not enough to get a conviction: you need the act to have been committed or attempted too. There is no crime of having intent to rob, but there is one of robbery (theft) or of entering a house with intent to rob (burglary). If people start being prosecuted for mere intentions, then you need to fix the law, not worry about mind-reading devices (which after all are just the messenger).

Re:devil's advocate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18243184)

You can prove intent, but intent is not enough to get a conviction: you need the act to have been committed or attempted too.

I guess you've never seen that show "to catch a predator"...

To catch a predator... (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247568)

... use water to short out his cloaking device.

Re:devil's advocate (1)

inviolet (797804) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243352)

You can prove intent, but intent is not enough to get a conviction: you need the act to have been committed or attempted too.

Not yet, anyway.

It seems that what is much more desperately needed than an intention-predictor, is an ironclad lie-detector. If we had a perfect truth serum, and (far more difficult to obtain) the political will to use it wholesale, the court system would be a very different place.

From what I've read so far, it seems that the hardest problem to solve on the way to a truth serum, is how to unravel the human mind's remarkable self-deception capabilities. While such are obviously vital to being happy (viz: "I am a very attractive dude, a prize for any woman!"), they are also the precondition for all the evils of religion.

I'm not a lawyer, but... (1)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243462)

You can prove intent, but intent is not enough to get a conviction: you need the act to have been committed or attempted too.

In a perfect world, sure. In the real world, intent is all you need. Ever heard of conspiracy? [wikipedia.org] . An overt "precursor" act (i.e. meeting with a hit-man, in the case of conspiracy to commit murder) is required to prove conspiracy, but that precursor act is basically just proof of intent, like this mind-reading device.

There is no crime of having intent to rob, but there is one of robbery (theft) or of entering a house with intent to rob (burglary). If people start being prosecuted for mere intentions, then you need to fix the law, not worry about mind-reading devices (which after all are just the messenger).

You're incorrect in your assumptions, but I do agree, the law *is* broken.

Re:I'm not a lawyer, but... (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244138)

In a perfect world, sure. In the real world, intent is all you need. Ever heard of conspiracy?. An overt "precursor" act (i.e. meeting with a hit-man, in the case of conspiracy to commit murder) is required to prove conspiracy, but that precursor act is basically just proof of intent, like this mind-reading device.
I'm not a lawyer either, but I think being convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime still requires some sort of action, especially one that is an obvious and immediate precursor to committing the crime. Thinking about killing someone is not conspiracy. Telling a friend "I wish that person was dead" is most likely not conspiracy. Offering someone money to kill someone is just about where the line is.

Re:I'm not a lawyer, but... (1)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244354)

In a perfect world, sure. In the real world, intent is all you need. Ever heard of conspiracy?. An overt "precursor" act (i.e. meeting with a hit-man, in the case of conspiracy to commit murder) is required to prove conspiracy, but that precursor act is basically just proof of intent, like this mind-reading device.

I'm not a lawyer either, but I think being convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime still requires some sort of action,


Is that not what I wrote? In the example of the "conspiracy to commit murder", if you meet with a hit man (i.e. undercover cop) and discuss where/when, they'll arrest you. Even if he's the one that will be doing the murdering, not you. You get busted because you're the one planning it. Ergo, your thoughts are illegal.

Re:I'm not a lawyer, but... (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245152)

You get busted because you're the one planning it. Ergo, your thoughts are illegal.
I think that's bit of a logical leap. Your thoughts and/or purely mental intent don't constitute conspiracy. The action of soliciting a hit-man (even if it's an undercover cop pretending to be one) is what gets you convicted of conspiracy.

Re:devil's advocate (1)

pluther (647209) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244200)

You can prove intent, but intent is not enough to get a conviction: you need the act to have been committed or attempted too.

And what's Jose Padilla in prison for, again?

Or Mike Hawash?

Re:devil's advocate (2, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243268)

Turns out he is both, he is watching the birds trying to figure out which one to molest. Who would have guessed?

Re:devil's advocate (1)

vic-traill (1038742) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243448)

Good point. I'm not particularly worried about the motivations or intentions of the folks working on this research. They sound like excited people doing cool work.

However, somewhere out there someone is thinking about the possibilities of, as User 956 notes, quantifying intent. Distilling it down to a number that statistically naive people can use to justify something.

For example, I see this at work in hiring practices where a weight is assigned to questions, and a list of preferred responses assigned their own weight. The interview complete, everyone adds up their numbers, and pretty quickly, someone starts to argue that Candidate A is The Guy, because 'he's 2 better than Candidate B'.

People will invest measures of intent with their own meanings unless there are very strong boundaries placed on interpretation.

I don't have a problem with the science. I have a problem with boneheads applying the science. I guess this is sort of what Oppenheimer found out.

Re:devil's advocate (1, Insightful)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243908)

A big portion of the work of prosecution in this country is spent proving intent.
And I've always complained about it. People make a lot of noise about freedom of speech but we don't even have freedom of thought. If you unlawfully kill someone while intending to do it you get a longer sentence than if you didn't intend it. Punish someone for killing, but to punish them additionally because of what they were thinking at the time seems like the grossest kind of human rights abuse to me.

Re:intent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18244318)

Suppose someone darts out into the road in front of your SUV. You react too slowly and kill him.

If this was a freak occurrence and investigators determine that you could have reacted in time, then you probably won't see any jail time.

But if you stalked that person and knew that he likes to cut across traffic at 12:07 every day to get a hot dog from a certain vendor and spent weeks perfecting your approach to coincide with his dash, then intentionally ran over him, you'll probably end up doing 25 to life.

Re:intent (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244694)

Punishment is supposed to (1) deter criminals and (2) keep them from committing crimes. So the question isn't "What was this person's intentions?" but "If we lock this person up, will it (1) discourage other criminals and (2) prevent this person from committing crimes?" I don't see where intentions have to come into it.

We can consider your examples in this light. Whatever punishment you dangle in front of me, I'm not going to get better reflexes. So you don't punish the first person. But punishing people who carry out actions like stalking, practicing an approach and then running people over might put people off those actions. No need to talk about intentions.

Re:intent (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245924)

"Punishment is supposed to (1) deter criminals and (2) keep them from committing crimes."

Who exactly told you this? I always thought it was to punish a given individual for a specific act.

Re:devil's advocate (1)

Thomas Shaddack (709926) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245964)

Thoughts about robbing a bank detected. Does the target want to rob the bank, is he making security systems for living and this thoughts are reflexive, or does he want to write a detective fiction?


I smell a lot of victimization here.

Pre-Crime (2, Funny)

biocute (936687) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242752)

You mean like what Tom Cruise did 5 years ago [imdb.com] ?

Re:Pre-Crime (4, Funny)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243070)

Yes, this technology will far and away make crime a risky business. Whether your name is Mohammed or Jerry Maguire, this should be able to separate out the real criminals without any collateral damage. Hopefully though this stays in the hands of a few good men who make all the right moves - ones who aren't swayed by the color of money - or else our society could collapse into a war of the worlds.

Re:Pre-Crime (2, Funny)

Dan Slotman (974474) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243936)

Huh. Insightful is it? I just see a lot of Tom Cruise movie titles strung together. Where I come from, that's a joke!

Re:Pre-Crime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18243074)

Or like what Phillip K. Dick [amazon.com] did back in the last century...

Re:Pre-Crime (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247594)

We're talking about predicting decisions, not the future. This is closer to Asimov's Foundation.

I, for one,... (4, Funny)

Joe Random (777564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242786)

...intend on welcoming our mind-reading overlords (as they well know).

I randomize lots of things (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18242800)

Just because I like variety in my life, I use an external randomizer (flip a coin, roll a die) to decide lots of things...do I go down 10th Street or 9th Street?
I'm now seeing that this was a very wise decision....
I do a lot of sub-optimal things, but at least I'm not predicatable

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

01arena (890407) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243530)

Just don't tell me you're a statistician!!!

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243656)

--Just don't tell me you're a statistician!!!

Maybe.

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243874)

I heard an internet rumor on a conspiracy website somewhere that Saddam Hussein had some fortune-telling system to decide which safe-house to stay at when he was on the run from the US military. Supposedly, his system, which involved some 'meaningful' rocks thrown on the ground, told him which one to go to, but there was speculation that it functioned randomly, like dice, so his choices were just random chance.

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243928)

So this is how your average afternoon goes, right?...

Heads: don tin-foil hat and take a nap.

Tails: work on better randomizer.

Re:I randomize lots of things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18244274)

So this is how your average afternoon goes, right?...


Heads: don tin-foil hat and take a nap.


Tails: work on better randomizer.


No. or are you trying to be funny? If so, try harder. If not, then your comment makes no sense

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

chord.wav (599850) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244990)

Like variety uh? By making you read this reply, I'll change your fate forever. You are welcome.
Gotta love the butterfly effect...

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

aeoo (568706) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245532)

There is a cool sci-fi book where a group of people do exactly that -- use external randomizer -- for the exact same reasons! I believe they are called "harlequins" in the book.

Re:I randomize lots of things (1)

complete loony (663508) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245788)

Frankly I'm (rolls dice) appalled and (rolls dice) shocked at your (rolls dice) lack of planning. And I (rolls dice) hit you for (rolls dice) 12 damage.

Asimov anyone? (0, Flamebait)

purify0583 (1063046) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242818)

This sounds very similar to "psychohistory" as discussed in Asimov's Foundation series. Now if only we could predict what random nation Bush is going to invade next... Suggested tag : psychohistory

Re:Asimov anyone? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243636)

Now if only we could predict what random nation Bush is going to invade next

If it were truly random, we couldn't predict it. But in actuality it's only psuedorandom...

Re:Asimov anyone? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244218)

Psychohistory made predictions based entirely on statistics. The premise was that, in enough situations, it doesn't matter at all who does something, only that the probability of somebody doing it was very close to 1. Psychohistory was particularly bad at handling anomalous individuals, which is exactly why the Mule screwed up the predictions so much.

Re:Asimov anyone? (1)

Spasmodeus (940657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247078)

Actually, it's not even close to the idea of psychohistory.

But it wouldn't take the genius of Hari Seldon or a bunch of German scientists to predict that somebody was going to make a dumb anti-Bush joke in this thread.

Cool I think (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18242832)

I was in this experiment and I want to tell you guys all about it. I was going to say how cool this was until I thought that's exactly what they're expecting me to say, then I thought it wasn't cool at all. But perhaps the scientists would be able to determine that I would change my mind because I was being observed, so then I decided that perhaps it really was cool, only I wasn't going to admit to it.

I think.

Can I go back to my "Deterministic Philosophy for Dummies" class now?

Re:Cool I think (3, Funny)

Joe Random (777564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242856)

Truly you have a dizzying intellect.

Re:Cool I think (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18242936)

That's exactly what I thought you would think.

Whoa. (4, Funny)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242898)

Adding and subtracting is "high-level" intellectual activity, now?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Re:Whoa. (1)

The Living Fractal (162153) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242978)

rofl.. nice point.

out of curiosity...How can they tell the difference between adding a negative and subtracting a positive?

4 - 4 = 0 4 + -4 = 0....

Hrm.

TLF

Re:Whoa. (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18246260)

They aren't they telling the difference between a person deciding they will subtract the two numbers they are yet to see, or if they will add them.

So it's not addition or subtraction that is high level. It's deciding which one to do...

Re:Whoa. (1)

Pollardito (781263) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244208)

Adding and subtracting is "high-level" intellectual activity, now?
hey, they'll stop what they can now and get to the rest later. today it's simple math, but tomorrow it's complex trigonometry

Re:Whoa. (1)

drfireman (101623) | more than 7 years ago | (#18246424)

Adding and subtracting is "high-level" intellectual activity, now?

Most studies of this kind of thing use simple motor tasks, which are comparatively concrete, low-level, and have a much better understood neural substrate. It depends a little on which psychology/neuroscience subculture you're talking to, but "high-level" is often used to mean something along the lines of "stuff your dog can't do." This is different from the ordinary meaning of the phrase, meaning roughly: "comprehensible only to Susan Sontag."

The authors aren't to blame for using the phrase in a way that is well-understood by their peers. But no science reporter is going to get into this level of detail. No science reporter with a deadline, anyway. Unfortunately, reporting this kind of article without explaining that "high-level" means something different to neuroscientists than it does to everyone else is liable to be at least a little misleading (in the sense that it encourages a predictable misunderstanding).

thoughtcrime (1)

phyruxus (72649) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242902)

anyone?

Re:thoughtcrime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18243010)

I knew you were going to say that!

Re:thoughtcrime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18244054)

:)

If only I'd known it was in tfa.

[x] Post Humously

They could read your intention to post this (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242932)

As it was posted last week [slashdot.org] ?

Re:They could read your intention to post this (1)

D4rk Fx (862399) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244024)

As it was posted last week?

Posted by CowboyNeal on Friday February 09, @03:08AM

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Monday March 05, @04:35PM
No wonder last week seemed like a long week... It was just 4 days shy of a month long.

I *know* you are thinking about it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18242950)

...so don't make the obligatory Minority Report reference.

Yes, but... (3, Funny)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 7 years ago | (#18242994)

... can they also predict dupes [slashdot.org] ?

Re:Yes, but... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244836)

You could predict dupes with high accuracy with a one-sided die. :P

Re:Yes, but... (1)

jonbritton (950482) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245244)

Predict dupes on Slashdot? I could do that with one line of Perl.

This is BIG! (1)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243024)

But... can they tell when I'm just going to give up and use a hand calculator or 'bc'?

Do they get "Pull my finger"? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18243096)

Are cabbage farts terrorism?

Thinking vs Doing (1)

SniperClops (776236) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243598)

Just because I think something doesn't mean I will do it.

neat but... (2, Insightful)

symes (835608) | more than 7 years ago | (#18243870)

Then they studied which type of patterns were associated with different intentions.

"If you knew which thought signatures to look for, you could theoretically predict in more detail what people were going to do in the future," said Haynes.

Which isn't a million miles from... "we observed that just before our participant scratched their nose they raised thier hand". Using this observation we were able to predict when participants were about to scratch thier nose. And did so with an accuracy rate of 70%."

Don't get me wrong - I think this research is very interesting - but a little over egged at this moment in time.

Mindshades (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244292)

Advances like these are the reason we need more privacy safeguards now, before they slowly boil our frog into stew (I know the frog jumps, but that TV gecko might not). Both tech, like universal P2P encryption of email, phone and Web, and legal, like a Privacy Amendment.

Humans have inalienable privacy rights, which we create governments and tools to protect. We invented clothing, and then later the 4th Amendment. But back then our skulls could protect us. Now that such security through obscurity won't work for much longer, we need thicker tech and government.

Of course nothing will completely protect privacy: knowledge is power, and power can know better. But better tech and government will slow it down. And keep us human longer.

Re:Mindshades (1)

et764 (837202) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245882)

government will slow it down.

Because if there's one thing governments are good at, it's slowing stuff down.

Re:Mindshades (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247588)

In fact that is one of the primary design objectives for the US government, unironically.

What if I add negative nine?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18244370)

Will they predict addition or substraction? :)

Re:What if I add negative nine?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18246528)

it depends on how you do it in your head.

catetory mistakes on parade (1)

brre (596949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244848)

What has been measured inside the skin is not intention, but CNS events. CNS events are in a different discourse from states like "intention". Holmes exists, and Doyle exists, but not in the same sense, and discourse about the one cannot mix freely with discourse about the other.

The CNS events in question may predict later behavior, or assist in doing so. What they will not do is deliver "intention" as the thing being measured. They are not that, and they are not even the same sort of thing as that.

Re:catetory mistakes on parade (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245480)

As the evidence comes in that certain CNS events are correlated with states like intention, the walls between these categories will come tumbling down, in exactly the same way that heat is now considered to be identical to a certain kind of motion, even though once upon a time heat and motion were considered to be in entirely different categories.

Re:catetory mistakes on parade (1)

brre (596949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245564)

There's no shortage of evidence that Holmes is correlated with Doyle. That doesn't make the discourse of writers the same as the discourse of fictional characters. There are no walls between the categories: they are simply different categories. If you believe you can learn more about Doyle by interviewing Holmes you are welcome to try. Likewise if you want to investigate mystery plotting by increasing the font size of the text, be my guest. They remain category mistakes.

what are George Bush's intentions??? (0, Flamebait)

mozkill (58658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18244910)

We need to run that thing on George Bush. On the other hand, I guess this device only measures "high level" brain activity, and George has none, evidently.

Since when? (1)

Kuvter (882697) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245322)

is adding versus subtracting a high-level mental activity?

Re:Since when? (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245446)

Since it was too high level an activity for most kids coming out of school.

The Foolproof Lie Detector (1)

BayaWeaver (1048744) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245608)

I think it's not just intentions that can be detected with this technology but also whether a person is lying. Quite possibly, the intention to tell the truth or lie in response to a question can also be detected. Scary? Yes, but this may be inevitable.

Re:The Foolproof Lie Detector (1)

roedeer (127491) | more than 7 years ago | (#18248428)

I seriously doubt that you'd get a fool-proof lie detector, as a true fool probably would believe he was telling the truth (as in, he's been fooled to believe, kind of like politics..). The answer would, objectively, be untrue, but not a lie per se. Furthermore, you could probably learn to trick such a lie detector by concentrating on what to answer, rather than on the question, answering a question that wasn't asked is probably neither untrue nor a lie, and as such, undetectable.

Actual research article (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 7 years ago | (#18245928)

As usual, the linked artice is sparse on actual details. Here's a link to the actual article in Current Biology:

http://www.current-biology.com/content/article/abs tract?uid=PIIS0960982206026583&highlight=haynes [current-biology.com]

The full text requires a subscription, but I've pasted the abstract below:

Reading Hidden Intentions in the Human Brain

When humans are engaged in goal-related processing, activity in prefrontal cortex is increased [1, 2]. However, it has remained unclear whether this prefrontal activity encodes a subject's current intention [3]. Instead, increased levels of activity could reflect preparation of motor responses [4, 5], holding in mind a set of potential choices [6], tracking the memory of previous responses [7], or general processes related to establishing a new task set. Here we study subjects who freely decided which of two tasks to perform and covertly held onto an intention during a variable delay. Only after this delay did they perform the chosen task and indicate which task they had prepared. We demonstrate that during the delay, it is possible to decode from activity in medial and lateral regions of prefrontal cortex which of two tasks the subjects were covertly intending to perform. This suggests that covert goals can be represented by distributed patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex, thereby providing a potential neural substrate for prospective memory [8, 9, 10]. During task execution, most information could be decoded from a more posterior region of prefrontal cortex, suggesting that different brain regions encode goals during task preparation and task execution. Decoding of intentions was most robust from the medial prefrontal cortex, which is consistent with a specific role of this region when subjects reflect on their own mental states.


Also, the final paragraph from the conclusion, which discusses where they'd like to go with this in the future:

Taken together, our results extend previous studies on the processing of goals in prefrontal cortex in several important ways. They reveal for the first time that spatial response patterns in medial and lateral prefrontal cortex encode a subject's covert intentions in a highly specific fashion. They also demonstrate a functional separation in medial prefrontal cortex, where more anterior regions encode the intention prior to its execution and more posterior regions encode the intention during task execution. These findings have important implications not only for the neural models of executive control, but also for technical and clinical applications, such as the further development of brain-computer interfaces, that might now be able to decode intentions that go beyond simple movements and extend to high-level cognitive processes.

Hahaha i just sent this to my prof... (1)

Fission86 (1070784) | more than 7 years ago | (#18246170)

I made this argument a while ago to my philosophy professor against free will, he thought it was a load of bull. I wonder how he'll respond?

Re:Hahaha i just sent this to my prof... (1)

Cimon Avaro (1022609) | more than 7 years ago | (#18246532)

Rather than Minority Report or the Foundation series, I would recommend two works to anyone interested about the free will aspect of this all...

The Mike Resnick trilogy consisting of Soothsayer, Oracle and Prophet. (I forget the exact sequence in which those books are in the series, but you knew that, right?) Although in this case the mutant able to predict peoples actions does so by simply projecting an immense tangle of futures possible by her choosing her own actions, the treatement of all the ramifications stemming from such an ability is not merely profound, but is genuinely philosophically exhaustive. (IMO Minority report takes a very narrow morality driven look at the issue.)

And the second one is Figments of Reality by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. This non-fiction book on deep epistemology and phenomenology has an exquisitely titled chapter "We Decided Not To Have a Chapter On Free Will, So Here It Is", which easily lives up to the promise of the title.

Re:Hahaha i just sent this to my prof... (1)

ioshhdflwuegfh (1067182) | more than 7 years ago | (#18248936)

Maybe then Suspect Zero [imdb.com] might help you?

Re:Hahaha i just sent this to my prof... (1)

tgv (254536) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247804)

He'll just repeat that. These actions were voluntarily. All the study shows is that bits in our brain have a different activation pattern when you try to hold on to your decision to add or your decision to subtract.

Furthermore, nobody can deny that subconcious parts of our brain will have a bias to some choice before that choice has to be made. But that does not imply that we don't have a free will. All it says is that we identify our conciousness one-to-one with our mental processes instead of accepting that it is more a reflective system by which (amongst other things) we judge our intentions and actions.

Somebody! (1)

Karaman (873136) | more than 7 years ago | (#18246956)

Lynch these scientists, please!

what they failed to predict (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18247186)

is that nobody would even try to make a tinfoil hat joke by the 88th comment on this story on slashdot!

Not true (1)

tgv (254536) | more than 7 years ago | (#18247782)

This has been reported before on SlashDot. I work in the field, I've read the article, and I'll say again: the claims are not that strong. There are bits in the brain that are more active when someone has taken the decision to add numbers that are going to appear in a few seconds and there are bits that are more active when when that same person has taken the decision to subtract. There are also bits that show a different activation pattern for adding and subtracting while performing the actual operation. They did get a correct prediction measure by training on a subset of the data and measuring actual performance on the part left out. That it wasn't done in real-time is not that important. And the success rate was 71%, whereas simple guessing would give you 50%.

So, can we read intentions? In practice: no. fMRI is way too slow and a lot of material is needed before a "prediction" can be made. And MRI scanners are not really portable. In theory: neither, since the success rate is rather low and the choice is binary (which real-life intentions are certainly not), artificial (make a "random" decision and maintain it for a couple of seconds) and forced (normal decisions arise spontaneously from events around you). Other experiments with "brain reading" show much more interesting results, but could not predict either. They might simply have measured people holding on to their intention, response to conditioning or even trying to be as random as possible.

Big deal (1)

whitehatlurker (867714) | more than 7 years ago | (#18249708)

I used to have a programmable calculator that emitted enough RF for me to "play" it on a radio. The pitch changed with which functions were being performed, so I could tell what it was thinking, too. (If I were skilled, I'm sure I could have made it play music.) And this was decades ago.
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