Reading the Visual Cortex

Subjects are shown the left image.
Computer reconstruction using fMRI scans of the visual cortex yields the right.

Someday, you won’t need a camera to capture what you’re seeing. Just scan your visual cortex instead.

Berkeley researchers have a primitive version of this working. First, they show subjects a bunch of video while scanning their visual cortex with fMRI. Software notes what the brain looks like while viewing various images. Then subjects are shown new video and scanned, but this time the cortex scan is used to reconstruct the video. While details are clearly missing, the reconstruction is startlingly accurate:

Not only could this mean unobtrusively recording everything you ever see, it could also capture the images from your dreams.

Surely brain-computer interfaces are on their way, and this represents an early step towards them. They’ll overlay information on our vision, give us Internet access by thought alone, and generally bring a new era in human thought. For now, though, I guess we’ll have to settle for Google goggles, which are indeed a step in the right direction.

~ by Grant on July 2, 2012.

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Markoff Chaney says:

Lest we forget, the brain scanners they use weigh several tons, cost millions of dollars, require you to be completely immobile and use liquid helium to keep their giant superconducting magnets working. Also, as you are encased inside a tube, the only thing you can see is whatever they choose to show you on the video screen they put in there. It’s certainly an impressive technological achievement, but I think cell phone cameras will remain the practical option for quite a while.

Grant says:

Heh, yes, a minor technicality I failed to mention. But as a skeptic who didn’t think brain-reading had come very far, this came as a surprise to me. EEG, for example, is still extremely coarse, hardly accurate enough to steer a car. Then again, you can buy a headset for a few hundred bucks and walk around with it on, so the tradeoff makes sense.

Markoff Chaney says:

Oh, yeah, it’s still totally awesome.