Japanese scientists, led by Professor Yamazaki Toshimasa at the Kyushu Institute of Technology, may have taken one more step toward the creation of a mind-reading computer.
Their process (study can be found here) involved having participants read selected words while they measured their brain activity using an electroencephalogram (or EEG), specifically in the Broca’s area, a region of the brain responsible for speech production.
What they found was that each spoken syllable produced “distinct brainwaves.”
What’s more, these brainwaves appeared up to a full two seconds before the participants actually spoke the words. According to The Daily Mail, researchers found that “electrical activity in the brain is the same when words are spoken and when they are left unsaid,” essentially allowing them to read minds.
For now, their system only recognizes seven Japanese words, with varying rates of success (higher for single characters).
However, if this technique could be improved, the possibilities are fascinating. We could someday have the ability to operate computers or robots using only our thoughts, or communicate with one another without actually speaking. The most profound benefit, however, may very well be to provide voices to those who cannot speak at all.
I’ve previously written about researchers who were able to “guess” what a person had heard by similarly decoding brainwaves, as well as fMRI imaging that allowed another group of researchers to reconstruct visual images based on brain activity. This is wild stuff, and it’s only getting wilder. What will the future hold?