A team of Japanese scientists have created a device that enables the processing and imaging of thoughts and dreams as experienced in the brain to appear on a computer screen. While researchers have so far only created technology that can reproduce simple images from the brain, the discovery paves the way for the ability to unlock people’s dreams and other brain processes.
A spokesman at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories said: “It was the first time in the world that it was possible to visualise what people see directly from the brain activity. “By applying this technology, it may become possible to record and replay subjective images that people perceive like dreams.”
The scientists, lead by chief researcher Yukiyaso Kamitani, focused on the image recognition procedures in the retina of the human eye. It is while looking at an object that the eye’s retina is able to recognise an image, which is subsequently converted into electrical signals sent into the brain’s visual cortex. The research investigated how electrical signals are captured and reconstructed into images, according to the study, which will be published in the US journal Neuron.
As part of the experiment, researchers showed testers the six letters of the word “neuron”, before using the technology to measure their brain activity and subsequently reconstruct the letters on a computer screen.
Since Sigmund Freud published The Interpretations of Dreams over a century ago, the workings of the sleeping human mind have been the source of extensive analysis by scientists keen to unlock its mysteries. Dreams were the focus of a scientific survey conducted by the Telegraph last year in which it was concluded that dreams were more likely to be shaped by events of the past week than childhood traumas.
Scientists Extract Images Directly From The Brain
Researchers from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed new brain analysis technology that can reconstruct the images inside a person’s mind and display them on a computer monitor, it was announced on December 11. According to the researchers, further development of the technology may soon make it possible to view other people’s dreams while they sleep.
The scientists were able to reconstruct various images viewed by a person by analyzing changes in their cerebral blood flow. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the researchers first mapped the blood flow changes that occurred in the cerebral visual cortex as subjects viewed various images held in front of their eyes. Subjects were shown 400 random 10 x 10 pixel black-and-white images for a period of 12 seconds each. While the fMRI machine monitored the changes in brain activity, a computer crunched the data and learned to associate the various changes in brain activity with the different image designs. Then, when the test subjects were shown a completely new set of images, such as the letters N-E-U-R-O-N, the system was able to reconstruct and display what the test subjects were viewing based solely on their brain activity.
For now, the system is only able to reproduce simple black-and-white images. But Dr. Kang Cheng, a researcher from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, suggests that improving the measurement accuracy will make it possible to reproduce images in color. “These results are a breakthrough in terms of understanding brain activity,” says Dr. Cheng. “In as little as 10 years, advances in this field of research may make it possible to read a person’s thoughts with some degree of accuracy.”
The researchers suggest a future version of this technology could be applied in the fields of art and design — particularly if it becomes possible to quickly and accurately access images existing inside an artist’s head. The technology might also lead to new treatments for conditions such as psychiatric disorders involving hallucinations, by providing doctors a direct window into the mind of the patient. ATR chief researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani says, “This technology can also be applied to senses other than vision. In the future, it may also become possible to read feelings and complicated emotional states.”