Researchers developing computer program to read people's minds

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they are one step closer to reading people’s thoughts. Their computer program was able to successfully decipher sentences participants read in their minds. 

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The study, conducted by Dr. Marcel Just, uses a computer learning program that interprets how the brain’s activity matches up with a person’s thoughts.

“We measure…how much neural firing there is,” he said.


Ten participants were asked to read 240 sentences in their heads while they were in an MRI machine. 

The sentences were as specific as, "The old doctor walked through the hospital," "The woman left the restaurant after the storm," and "The reporter interviewed the dangerous terrorist."

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Researchers then had the computer program “learn” 239 of the sentences and their matching brain activity. They then gave the program only the brain activity for the 240th sentence and asked it to say the unique sentence that the participant was thinking. There was approximately an 86 percent accuracy.

Just said the neural firing that occurs in each region of the brain is unique to the thoughts people have, which allows the program to determine what the participant is thinking.

The program is precise enough to distinguish certain nuances, although Just claimed it’s not perfect. He cited the example of a dog chasing a cat versus a cat chasing a dog. 


"The computer program…can tell which role the dog is playing and the cat is playing,” Just said, adding that the brain’s neural firing is so specific that it changes between distinct animals.

He added this development means more than the ability to read your neighbor’s mind in the future. It could be the beginning of a new type of medicine that analyzes the precise brain activity of those who suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and other conditions, Just said.

"We haven’t done this yet but the door is cracking open,” he said.

But for those who may still be curious about reading a friend’s mind in the future, Just says there’s one caveat.

"If you can persuade enough friends to go into scanners, yes, you could read their minds,” he said.