Scientists use brain scans to read minds

Brain scan

A futuristic technology enabling scientists to read a person's mind has come to light this week.

Developed by neuroscientists at the University of California, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) offers scans which can be used to identify what a person is thinking.

The research was conducted earlier this year with 130 people participating.

They were asked to perform one of eight mental tasks including reading aloud, doing simple monetary tasks and counting the number of tones they heard while having a brain scan.

The neuroscientists could then identify which tasks they were performing and, in turn, predict what they would do next purely from the images.

In the future, this could be used to determine what criminals are thinking or even establish what people are dreaming about, the researchers said.

Russell Poldrack, a professor of psychology at UCLA, said in a statement: "It turns out that we can predict quite well which of these eight tasks they are doing."

"If we were just guessing, we would get it right about 13 per cent of the time. We get it right about 80 per cent of the time with our statistical tool. It's not perfect, but it is quite good but not nearly good enough to be admissible in court, for example."

Comparisons are being drawn between this research and the technology used in the film Minority Report, where criminals are identified before committing a crime.

However, Poldrack urges caution with such suggestions. "Our study suggests that the kinds of things that some people have talked about in terms of mind reading are probably still pretty far off," he said.

"If we are only 80 per cent accurate with eight very different thoughts and we want to figure out what you're thinking out of millions of possible thoughts, we're still very far away from achieving that."

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott is a former freelance journalist and currently political reporter for Sky News. She has a varied writing history, having started her career at Dennis Publishing, working in various roles across its business technology titles, including ITPro. Jennifer has specialised in a number of areas over the years and has produced a wealth of content for ITPro, focusing largely on data storage, networking, cloud computing, and telecommunications.

Most recently Jennifer has turned her skills to the political sphere and broadcast journalism, where she has worked for the BBC as a political reporter, before moving to Sky News.