Mind reading is hard. But not impossible.
Modern technology can reach inside someone’s head and pull out their intent. Maybe that intent is to move a robotic arm. Or type something on a computer screen. Such thought-controlled devices can help people who aren’t able to move or speak perform different tasks.
Decoding thought usually requires placing sensors directly on or in someone’s brain. Those implanted electrodes eavesdrop on the electrical signals whizzing between the person’s brain cells, or neurons. Such neural firings carry messages that allow brains to think, feel and control the body.
Using brain implants, researchers have picked up electrical blips in the brain linked to certain words or letters. This has allowed brain implants to transform thoughts into text or speech on a computer. Likewise, brain implants have transformed imagined handwriting into text on a screen. Implanted electrodes have even allowed scientists to turn the neural firings associated with a song in someone’s head into real music.
In a recent study, scientists decoded full stories from people’s brains using MRI scans. This did not require any brain implants. But building the thought decoder did require many hours of brain scans for each person. What’s more, the system only worked on the person whose brain scans helped build it. And only when that person was willing to have their mind read.
So devices that might let someone sneakily read your mind from across the room are still a long, long way off. Still, it’s clear that mind-reading tech is getting more advanced. As it does, scientists are thinking hard about what it would mean to live in a world where not even the inside of your head is completely private.
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