UCL News


'Thoughts read' via brain scans

11 August 2005

Scientists say they have been able to monitor people's thoughts via scans of their brains.

Teams at UCL and University of California in LA could tell what images people were looking at, or what sounds they were listening to. …

The UK team say such research might help paralysed people communicate, using a 'thought-reading' computer.

In their 'Current Biology' study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, people were shown two different images at the same time - a red stripy pattern in front of the right eye and a blue stripy pattern in front of the left. …

While people's attention switched between the two images, the researchers used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scanning to monitor activity in the visual cortex.

It was found that focusing on the red or the blue patterns led to specific, and noticeably different, patterns of brain activity.

The fMRI scans could reliably be used to predict which of the images the volunteer was looking at, the researchers found. …

Dr John-Dylan Haynes of the UCL Institute of Neurology, who led the research, told the BBC News website: "What we need to do now is create something like speech-recognition software, and look at which parts of the brain are specifically active in a person."

He said the study's findings proved the principle that fMRI scans could "read thoughts", but he said it was a very long way from creating a machine which could read anyone's mind.

But Dr Haynes said: "We could tell from a very limited subset of possible things the person is possibly seeing."

"One day, someone will come up with a machine in a baseball cap.

"Then it really could be helpful in everyday applications."

He added: "Our study represents an important but very early stage step towards eventually building a machine that can track a person's consciousness on a second-by-second basis.

"These findings could be used to help develop or improve devices that help paralyzed people communicate through measurements of their brain activity."

BBC News Online

Read the UCL press release here.