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Can a computer read your mind?

12 Mar, 2010
Can you read my mind? Image credit: Flickr/Sunny laid back L.A.

Can you read my mind?

On the Trust’s website today, we’ve published a story about a tantalising bit of research which shows that it is possible to identify what someone is remembering by using an MRI scanner and a specially developed computer programme.

The new research from Professor Eleanor Maguire’s group builds on work performed last year where they investigated people’s memories of their own location within a virtual environment. In this new study, they’ve gone a step further and investigated the episodic memories of everyday events that are occurring around us, such as seeing someone posting a letter or getting ready to ride a bike. Significantly, they have been able to tell what it is that someone is thinking about.

However, the results don’t mean that we will all of a sudden be able to find out any old thing that someone is thinking; that is, to ‘read someone’s mind’. In the study participants were tasked with recalling one of three short films that they had previously viewed, so the researchers were already aware of the nature of what it was they were thinking about just not the identity. So the answer to the question posed in the title to this post is, “in a way.”

The computer programme used was able to successfully select which it was of the three films that the subjects were remembering at the time, something the researchers couldn’t have known as the choice was random and down to each individual. So the result is still no mean feat.

As Professor Richard Morris told the BBC, “… all manner of next steps come to mind – such as distinguishing a true memory from a false one, or a recent memory from one long ago”. Alas, to find out what is beyond these two next steps we will need to put all our mind-reading powers to use as the BBC and Richard don’t tell us what they are.

Hear Professor Eleanor Maguire talk about the study and its results:

Image credit: Flickr/Sunny laid back L.A.
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