Mind over matter.
September 8, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

The brain speaks! Scientists decode words from brain signals. "In an early step toward letting severely paralyzed people speak with their thoughts, University of Utah researchers translated brain signals into words using two grids of 16 microelectrodes implanted beneath the skull but atop the brain."
posted by Fizz (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
On the one hand, awesome.

On the other hand, man is brain reading technology something that seems ripe for abuse.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:33 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the picture, it appears grey matter is pink. Cool photo.

This can help a lot of people.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:34 PM on September 8, 2010


All technological progress expands the capability of the human race to do either good things or bad things. Anything can be abused. Even metafilter can be abused.
posted by grizzled at 2:35 PM on September 8, 2010


Co-funded by the Department of Defense, I see.

I'm sure they're only interested in helping wounded soldiers.

Or something.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:36 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, this is so great. I got into an involved argument with a coworker who claimed that not only did this already exist, but it existed to a dizzying Hollywood-like degree which involved complete thought-to-computer speech. I've already e-mailed this to him. Is it so wrong to gloat over science?
posted by lizjohn at 2:38 PM on September 8, 2010


fMRI scanning is much creepier.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:38 PM on September 8, 2010


I've always wondered what the raw data read from my mind would look like. I am usually thinking about a number of things at once, in a manner too incoherent to communicate to anyone beside myself.

As I'm about to speak, I run dozens of potential phrases through my head before deciding which I want to verbalize. Wouldn't technology like this (in a more mature form, naturally) read all the stuff I don't want to say? Maybe there'd be some sort of focus threshold, where it only grabs the stuff I think really hard about, though of course that's risky too. The stuff I feel most strongly about not saying is the stuff I think about hardest to avoid, before opening my mouth.

Using a mind-reading system as a mouthpiece for those who can't speak seems like a good idea at first, but I worry that it would often say exactly what those people don't want said, and they'd have a very hard time communicating that the tech's misrepresenting them.

Our minds are teeming with thoughts we can't control and have no desire to share with others (even though the others are in the same predicament). This is Pandora's box.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:49 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


What kind of science reporting is this? Where is the scary headlines fraught with urgency and misinformation?

NEW TECH STEALS WORDS RIGHT OUT OF YOUR BRAIN!

How can I be sufficiently terrified by something positive like helping the severely paralyzed have a voice? This just won't stand.
posted by quin at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even metafilter can be abused.

You read my mind!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2010


Ah, this is so great. I got into an involved argument with a coworker who claimed that not only did this already exist, but it existed to a dizzying Hollywood-like degree which involved complete thought-to-computer speech. I've already e-mailed this to him.
Ah, but see, THEY have perfect thought-to-computer speech,* and THEY don't want you to know about it.

*Also it doubles your gas mileage and whitens your teeth and your jeans stop getting those annoying holes in the knees. For real. My cousin knows this guy who knows all about this stuff.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:02 PM on September 8, 2010


Cool!

Hey, get those probes away from me!
posted by krinklyfig at 3:05 PM on September 8, 2010


Apparently this technique identifies the correct word "76 percent to 90 percent of the time", which suggests the performance is awfully poor, especially since this accuracy drops to "28 percent to 48 percent" if a small subset of 10 words is used. You would need more information on the rate of false positives and false negatives to do apply Bayes' theorem but really this seems practically useless even if it performance improves several orders of magnitude (see false positives in a medical test).
posted by eeeeeez at 3:11 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


One step closer to perfecting Mi-Go brain cylinder technology. Of course, the funniest part is when you warm up the speaking-machine and plug in a cylinder that's been sitting on a shelf for 9000 years... the only word they seem to know is "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH"
posted by FatherDagon at 3:14 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


but I worry that it would often say exactly what those people don't want said,

You definitely wouldn't want to see this sort of thing in an official setting without some kind of editing.

"Will the defendant please I LIKE BOOBIES rise?"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:31 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


fMRI scanning is much creepier.

Yeah, as long as you're sitting completely still with your head inside a rather large machine.
posted by muddgirl at 3:33 PM on September 8, 2010


Joe Beese: "
Co-funded by the Department of Defense, I see.

I'm sure they're only interested in helping wounded soldiers.

Or something.
"

Obviously they're busy building the man-machine interface needed to produce the world's ultimate cyberwarrior and counterterrism unit.
posted by pwnguin at 3:33 PM on September 8, 2010


From this article alone, it's not clear that the 20% is better than random chance, since they didn't describe how the training set and test set were segregated. If they were the same, it's not clear what random chance would be, but it would be guaranteed to be more than 10%. I would assume that these guys have their act together on that, since they passed peer-review (and were allowed to put electrodes in people's brains). That said, one has to be very careful about such things, especially when you go digging through your data to find the five "best" electrodes.

Anyway, this is definitely not mind-reading as envisioned in Sci-Fi. This is taking a crude (yet invasive) measurement of the brain, and it won't generalize to surreptitious or details-oriented applications.

Oh, and Joe Beese, when I was in grad school, the Department of Defense funded my research into the statistics of clusters on the Cayley tree. Those guys have too much money for their own good. It's almost like the whole DoD is a racket...
posted by Humanzee at 3:47 PM on September 8, 2010


This technology will be a godsend for people that like getting high.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:52 PM on September 8, 2010


Some thoughts have a certain sound, thought being equivalent to a form.
posted by Sandor Clegane at 3:58 PM on September 8, 2010


Aquaman,
If you can't complete your own sentences, you probably shouldn't.
If you can't complete your own sentences, you probably shouldn't be.
If you can't complete your own sentences, you probably shouldn't be writing.
If you can't complete your own sentences, you probably shouldn't be writing them.
posted by vidur at 4:23 PM on September 8, 2010


"What am I gonna do? I think about sex all the time! Sex! Help! 4 times 5 is thirty. 5 times 6 is 32. Naked girls. Naked Women! Naked Buffy! Oh stop me!"
posted by NoraReed at 4:24 PM on September 8, 2010


Wrong thread, dumbass.
Note to self: Please have some coffee before opening MeFi in the mornings.

posted by vidur at 4:38 PM on September 8, 2010


.As I'm about to speak, I run dozens of potential phrases through my head before deciding which I want to verbalize. Wouldn't technology like this (in a more mature form, naturally) read all the stuff I don't want to say? Maybe there'd be some sort of focus threshold, where it only grabs the stuff I think really hard about, though of course that's risky too. The stuff I feel most strongly about not saying is the stuff I think about hardest to avoid, before opening my mouth.

Using a mind-reading system as a mouthpiece for those who can't speak seems like a good idea at first, but I worry that it would often say exactly what those people don't want said, and they'd have a very hard time communicating that the tech's misrepresenting them.


Well there really is no 'I' there, for one thing. The brain is composed of many quasi-independent organs of thought. One part of your brain runs through potential phrases, another part of your brain chooses one to say, but there's neither one is really in charge, and they might be in completely different parts of the brain. The idea that you've got a unitary conciousness thinking with words is somewhat illusory.

I think focusing on sub-vocalization would be a good way to separate intentional words from unintentional, and as a bonus, you don't need to do anything to the brain, theoretically, if you can tap into the nerves heading to the mouth and jaw, etc.
posted by empath at 5:04 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting research idea, reported in the worst possible fashion. The performance is not what the headline suggests - they managed to match patterns to a very small set of spoken words. So what is being detected - thoughts? Speech? Motor activity related to pronouncing different words? Down the bottom of the 'summary' it says that detecting motor activity was most successful.

On the other hand, everything has to start somewhere.
posted by carter at 5:38 PM on September 8, 2010


Good points, empath. I'm especially tickled that you, given your name, stopped by to comment in the thread on mind reading.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:45 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


*answers phone* Hello?

...It's the brain.
posted by wanderingmind at 12:04 AM on September 9, 2010


Here's what I'd want -- I'd want to have a rig like this, but that achieved reasonable accuracy, and wear that sucker while I was sleeping, and have it transcribe what words my brain is saying to itself while I was sleeping. That'd be great.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:59 AM on September 9, 2010


The "unintentional words" is probably why the DoD is interested in this.

"What is the combination to your safe?"

"I better not tell him that the combination is 35-42-81!"

(y'know, like in that Scrooge comic, previously)
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2010


I have heard two things:
1. They put electrodes in a cat's brain and used the cat like a camera to generate lo-rez pictures of what it was seeing. I saw these pictures in my Cognitive Psychology textbook.

2. When you imagine visual things, your visual cortex is active.

Can we or can we not record cats' dreams?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 8:51 AM on September 9, 2010


The "unintentional words" is probably why the DoD is interested in this.

It couldn't at all be because of so many paralyzed and brain damaged soldiers.
posted by empath at 8:56 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really glad to see this, as it's one step closer to my dream invention, a device that directly transcribe whatever I am saying or hearing in my head. A lot of times the stream of words that's going through my head is much clearer than anything I can get down on paper. This would come in very handy during those first few minutes when you're laying down to sleep and your waking brain is still going over all those things on your mind.

The other thing I can't wait for is a when I can make a song in my head and have it played out for me. Call it brain music.
posted by daHIFI at 2:11 PM on September 9, 2010


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