Mind-reading computers are on the way

7 Apr 2011

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Scientists at the University of Washington have fashioned a device that connects people’s brains directly to their computers and allows the computers to ‘listen’ to their thoughts.

Using a technique used to identify epilepsy, the technology allowed a group of patients to think of a series of words for the cursor to respond.

Using electrocortiography (ECog)  – the placing of electrodes directly to a brain – four patients with epilepsy were able to move a cursor towards a target using specific words.

For example, thinking the word ‘AH’ would move the cursor right.

The results were 90pc accurate, according to a study published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

The mind-reading computers could be powerful for people with difficulty communicating, for example.

Future deployment of mind-reading computers

It is envisaged the technology could be deployed in the future as an implant in an area less than a centimetre wide with minimal invasive surgery.

“This is one of the earliest examples, to a very, very small extent, of what is called ‘reading minds’ — detecting what people are saying to themselves in their internal dialogue,” the lead author of the report, Dr Eric C Leuthardt of Washington University School of Medicine, explained.

“We want to see if we cannot just detect when you’re saying dog, tree, tool or some other word, but also learn what the pure idea of that looks like in your mind. It’s exciting and a little scary to think of reading minds, but it has incredible potential for people who can’t communicate or are suffering from other disabilities,” Leuthardt said.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com