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 Brain Scans Read Intentions

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Date posted: 16/03/2007

In a recent study by John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, it was demonstrated that it is possible to read an individual?s intentions before they act by monitoring the activity in their brain.



The difference in neural signals



Ethical Implications

The ethical implications of a technology thaty can non-invasively read a person?sthoughts, and determine intent before they perform an action, are truly profound. Pre-crime sentencing, political vote manipulation, loyalty tests, and, in the long term, possibly even mind control all leap forwards as possibilities.

Whilst it is certainly true that now is the time to begin thinking about legislation to cover these eventualities, the technology itself is nowhere near that stage, just yet.

70% Accurate

In the study, the technology used only managed to accurately predict intentions 70% of the time, and onluy for a limited, two possibility problem. Never the less, it is a landmark for cognative science.

Eight people were recruited for the trial, and placed in a brain scanning machine that produced computed tomography (CT) images.

While participants had their brains scanned, they were asked to secretly decide whether they would add or subtract two numbers due to appear on a screen in front of them. After a pause of a few seconds, they then viewed the two numbers and gave their answer.

Once the computer program designed to interpret the brain scans had been ?trained? on 40-minutes-worth of calculations by a participant, it could predict their calculating intention with 70% accuracy. Haynes explains that the computer program could do this by focusing on the pattern of activity in a brain region known as the medial prefrontal cortex.

?It?s important to see if we can further increase the accuracy? of the brain scan tests, he says, adding that it might be achieved by training the computer for a longer period of time.

Ultimate VR Interface

The technique is a definite step forwards for what is considered the ultimate VR interface, Brain-Machine interfacing.

Dictionary Term: BMI

BMI stands for Brain-Machine Interface, and represents an old field, of connecting the human brain to machines, which drifted along for decades, then experienced a massive boost to development speed in 2000+, and is currently growing with exponential speed, with real successes in linking human brains to computers, and the control of virtual, and physical prosthetic limbs via pure thought control.

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If the accuracy can be greatly improved, and expanded to a wider area, then the non-invasive technique might well be the route taken for general purpose VR BMI. The lack of wires poking through the skull is certainly more attractive than current methods of computer control by pure thought.

Previous technology has relied on signals from the brain?s motor region to enable paralysed patients to write sentences this way. But this involves the tedious task of moving a cursor across the computer screen to select from the alphabet. Haynes says using signals from the medial prefrontal cortex might enable people to simply think of the letter.

Neuroscientist Read Montague of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, US, says the findings add to a growing body of evidence that decisions can be predicted by observing the medial prefrontal cortex. ?There are findings now that show that [activity in this brain region] can predict decisions to purchase an item for money or to choose a specific numerical ?liking? level for art,? he says.

See the full Story via external site: www.newscientist.com



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