Will Telepathic Computers be Able to Read Our Minds?
Telepathic computers are in our future. It may sound like science fiction, but it's fact. The number of amazing recent advances made by the military and the neuroscientific community make this prediction a safe one. The pentagon is developing synthetic telepathy technology in which soldiers will be able to communicate with each other telepathically on the battlefield. Neuroscientists are conducting many studies in which computers are reading and analyzing the thoughts of the test subjects, and translating these thoughts into words or images.
DARPA and Synthetic Telepathy
For years conspiracy theorists have maintained that the government has computers that can read our minds and project thoughts into our brains. The reality is that the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has been funding an area of research called Synthetic Telepathy since 1988 at theUniversity of Irvine in California in conjunction with labs in Maryland and Philadelphia. There is also an Army funded project underway at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center at Albany Medical College. These projects are exploring ways to have a computer interpret the EEG signals that the brain emits, and then to transmit those thoughts to an intended target. This would enable soldiers to communicate more effectively with each other on the battlefield. An April 8, 2012 article in Discover Magazine announced that soldiers would wear helmets with electrodes to accomplish the telepathy. The electrodes would pick up code words and transmit them back to a computer. The computer would then relay the code words to soldiers in the field. The pentagon has projected that this technology will be ready in 2017. So far there is a 45% accuracy rate in correctly identifying the code words that the test subject is thinking of (such as 'safe to move forward' or 'enemy ahead'). It's expected that that accuracy will increase rapidly as the project advances.
Many neuroscientists are trying to find ways to help patients that have lost their ability to communicate due to disease or stroke. In fact Stephen Hawkins, an ALS victim, is helping out in this effort by wearing a headband that transmits his thoughts to a computer. The band, called the iBrain, is designed by the SanDiego based company NeuroVigil. The iBrain picks up brain waves through electrodes and sends them wirelessly to a computer which analyzes them through use of NeuroVigil's SPEARS algorithm. The hope is that these brain signals can be mapped out into recognizable patterns that can then be identied and translated into words. In April, 2012, Hawking and Dr. Philip Low, iBrain's inventer, presented their findings at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference in Cambridge. It was reported that Hawkins was able to successfully generate readable brain wave patterns when thinking about moving various parts of his body. Hawkins will continue to work with Low on this project, and these studies will also be continued with other ALS patients. Many scientists feel that this technology shows great promise, and that eventually it will lead to computers translating thoughts into speech.
A Machine That Can Read Speech
Brian Parsley from University of California Berkeley carried out an experiment dealing with 15 people having surgery for epilepsy. The subjects had electrodes implanted in the area of the brain that's involved in processing sound – the middle temporal gyri. Parsley's team presented a series of spoken words and the electrodes recorded the neural activity of the subjects as they heard the words. The team was able to decode the neural activity and correlate it to various aspects of speech. They then created a graphical representation of sound (a spectogram) that they could turn into audible speech (follow this link to see the amazing video). They hope to eventually find evidence that thinking words would produce activity similar to that produced in the brain when it hears words. Then a persons thoughts could be turned into speech, something that would free up those that are cut off from the world because of loss of speech.
Telepathy using fMRI
The functional Magnetic Resonance Imagining machine (fMRI) is a brain and body scanning device that is being used to map out brain patterns. An fMRI machine is being used by Doctor Belinda Lewis of Cambridge University to study bipolar disorder. She's discovered that when shown emotionally charged images, bipolar patients are excessively stimulated and less able to process the information accurately. Such studies mapping brain waves with mental disorders will make the diagnosis of autism, bipolar disorder, shizophrenia more accurate, and make the field of psychology more science based.
Professor Jack Gallant's lab at Berkley California has also been using an fMRI machine to record what people are experiencing visually. He has been able to show images to a subject, then decode the subject's fMRI data and play the decoded images back like a movie. So far, this technology can only reconstruct what people have actually seen, but it's not a far leap to think that eventually it could play back visions of what a person is thinking, or playing back memories or dreams.
Results of Studies at Jack Gallant's Lab
Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging is another leading pioneer in fMRIs technology and a leader in mapping out how the brain processes information. He won the Society for Text and Discourse Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in July, 2012 for outstanding scientific contributions to the study of discourse processing and text analysis. He has shown test subjects images while they are in an fMRI. The subects then thought about the images for a few seconds. A computer was then able to process the information and correctly identify the words that the subjects were thinking of. The video below shows this amazing experiment.
Video on Mind Reading fMRI
fMRI Technology Allows Communication With Man in Vegetative State
The University of Western Ontario has successfully used an fMRI to determine "Yes" and "No" answers to questions. In a groundbreaking study "The Brain's Silent Messenger: Using Selective Attention to Decode Human Thought for Brain-Based Communication", they successfully decoded "yes" and "no" responses to questions such as "Are you married?", or "Do you have brothers or sisters?". These findings allowed them to communicate with a man who had been in a vegetative state for more than a decade. Although he was thought to be completely unresponsive, he answered "yes" or "no" to questions that only he could know the answers to.
This amazing technology will change the way that such patients are treated, and will greatly improve the quality of their lives. It is hoped that this technology will become cheap and portable enough to aid home-bound patients.
Given that these technologies are advancing quickly, shouldn't we be developing rules of ethics to keep this technology from running wild? Although it can be a great blessing to society, it can also be greatly abused. Already there is a case in Maryland where an fMRI scan is being used in a court case. A device called the P300 can perform a "guilty knowledge test" that detects a particular brain wave if the subject has knowledge of an event. Even advertising agencies are looking into this technology. Once the capability exists to read minds through remote devices, what's to prevent malicious agencies or governments from misusing the technology against an unsuspecting public or against an enemy? And once thought patterns are completely mapped out, what's to prevent these agencies from developing a computer capable of transmitting thoughts and feelings to an unknowing population? There is a great need for governments, the scientific community, and the BCI (Brain Computer Interface) industry to develop standards for this rapidly developing technology before it becomes a threat to the privacy of our thoughts - one of our deepest and most fundamental rights.
© 2013 Margaret Perrottet