Scientists have discovered a new brain scanning technique which can bring the old mind-reading party trick closer to reality. With the help of a high resolution MRI and a mathematical model, Dutch researchers were able to convert brain activity into an actual image.

The Radboud University’s team tested the technology on several subjects which had been shown various letters. The scanning technique helped researchers reconstruct an image of the brain in the process of recognizing the letters.

New Brain Scanning Technique ‘Can Read Minds’

The original image seen by the subjects is at the top, with the fMRI reconstructions below.

Scientists used a functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging machine) to identify the parts of the brain that are active when someone is looking at a letter. The fMRI practically detects brain activity by identifying what parts of the brain have more blood flowing to them, a sign that that particular area is responding to stimuli.

Basically the fMRI scanned the occipital lobe of subjects who were shown the letters B, R, A, I, N and S. The scan created a speckled image that was then interpreted and translated into an image of the letters, with the help of a specifically designed computational model.

More specifically, the model was provided with previous knowledge of what the letters looked like and was therefore able to translate what seemed like a random fuzzy image as created by the MRI scan into a clear letter pattern.

New Brain Scanning Technique ‘Can Read Minds’

This brain scanning technique may seem like just another trick, but Radboud scientists insist that the research is actually aimed at finding ways to model what our brains are experiencing, not just at reading our mind. The models obtained could be applied to subjective experiences such as dreams or even to working memories, researchers said.

The next step in the experiment is of course using a more powerful magnetic resonance imaging machine. The fMRI used in the research was able to scan at a resolution of 1,200 voxels but the team hopes to increase that to 15,000 voxels. And instead of letters, scientists will attempt to reconstruct images of faces shown to the subjects.

Even though it has a long way to go until developing into full mind reading capabilities, this brain scanning technology is nonetheless exciting. And scary at the same time. What do you think?

[Images via Wired]