Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mindfreak...Without the Black Eyeliner

I have a mindfreak for you. And it's not Criss Angel's smacked-out version of parlor tricks. This time, it's science.

Researchers at UC Berkley have found a way to analyze brain activity in order to predict with ninety percent accuracy what natural image was seen by the subject at a specific point in time. Where previous experiments using MRIs failed because the computer had to be familiar with the images prior to testing, this latest approach tackles the way the brain encodes information by computer simulation. The jump from encoding to decoding is not far off.

Professor Jack Gallant believes, "one day it may even be possible to reconstruct the visual contents of dreams or visual imagery" and cautions, "it is possible that decoding brain activity could have serious ethical and privacy implications downstream in, say, the 30-to 50-year time frame."

Imagine these implications. Within our lifetime, this technology's capacity to destroy the human elements of white lies that play to social graces, the true nature and internal battles of interpersonal relationships, even the potential to affect the outcomes of political interactions is staggering. Secrets of the mind, our preoccupations and fantasies, could be broadcast, perhaps even for public consumption. Our greatest and lowest humanities revealed.

Maybe to those of you who are fleet of tongue, this doesn't seem as terrifying as it does for those of us who wrap ourselves in the insulation of these private thoughts. Introverts thrive on the isolated spaces of the mind, a rich terrain simultaneously comforting and forbidden, where we find the room to breathe. The idea that the final frontier of scientific exploration is not at the point of two geographic coordinates but within the mind inspires far more than my two novels, Chasing Midnight and Chasing Destiny. This frontier has enough feet to fill a career.

While browsing the photo shop creations of Time Travel Celebrities (10 galleries worth-Squee!), I found this haunting image. At the risk of breaching some posting rule, I wanted to credit the artist who created it, HDoyer. It fit my paranoid thoughts today.

Check out more about the UC-Berkley study. The article is dated May 3, 2008. Some kind of omen from the future? Hmm.

Were it possible today, whose mind would you decode?


Marilyn Brant said...

This is fascinating as well as kind of horrifying, being that I, too, am one of those introverts who take comfort in my fantasies being unreadable and unreachable to anyone, unless I choose to share them. I'm going to take a look at the article you linked now. May 3rd?? Huh...

Marilyn Brant said...

Okay--actually I feel a little less unsettled now (at least by the date--the study still freaks me out :-). Since it was a U.K. website and those wacky Europeans often reverse month and day, I'm hoping 05/03 means March 5th... Otherwise, I have no clue what they were thinking.

Maureen McGowan said...

Wow. That is unsettling. No more lying either. But on the positive, I wonder if they could get extremely accurate eye-witness descriptions. Just extract the memories to see what the witness saw. Interesting... Ideas for future books spinning in my brain...