British scientists have found a way to tell some of what people are thinking simply by scanning their brain. But it could be a least a decade before the system works on unwilling victims.
The research involved scanning the bloodflow throughout the brain as this is known to indicate activity. The team from University College London were looking particularly at the hippocampus, a part of the brain which deals with both navigation and memory.
They asked volunteers to play a virtual reality computer game that allowed them to ‘move’ around a fictional world. The researchers were able to detect patterns of activity in the neurons (brain cells) which allowed them to accurately predict where in the virtual world the player was located.
This confirmed that neurons do activate in specific patterns as the brain records memories. Previous studies of rats had not shown any evidence that neurons didn’t simply act randomly. However, such studies only involved dozens of neurons whereas this human study analyzed tens of thousands of neurons.
The discovery has particular potential for future discoveries because the scientists believe the patterns were not formed by the players’ sense of where they were at the present moment, but rather their memories of their previous movements.
This means it could be possible to learn much more about how the brain forms memories. Knowing this could give scientist a better chance of figuring out why this process goes wrong with sufferers of Alzeheimer’s disease.
However, the technique appears to only work with people who want their minds to be ‘read’, and the researchers say using it for lie detector purposes or knowing what somebody is thinking will not be possible for at least a decade if not more. There’s also no guarantee that the technique’s success can be extended to cover all types of memories rather than just movement and location.