The race to write an algorithm to guess what you’re thinking

Part of TEDxBerlin speaker John-Dylan Haynes's research mapping brain activity (Photo: John-Dylan Haynes)

Part of TEDxBerlin speaker John-Dylan Haynes’s research mapping brain activity (Photo: John-Dylan Haynes)

John-Dylan Haynes is looking for the Rosetta Stone for the brain. The neuroscientist is determined to unlock the keys to how the brain encodes thoughts by clever use of lots and lots of brain imaging.

At TEDxBerlin, he explains his work, which involves creating maps of brain activity by imaging people’s brains while they look at specific images. This way, Haynes can work to teach a computer to recognize patterns that come with a person looking at a photo of a German Shepard verus those conjured up by an image of a bouquet of flowers.

“Our thoughts are intimately related to brain processes,” he says in his talk. “So it should, in theory, be possible — if I put someone in a brain scanner — to find out what they’re thinking …

Every thought you have has its own unique signature pattern of activity in your brain. You think one thing, you get one pattern of activity; you think something else, you get a different pattern of brain activity.”

To try and decode these patterns, Haynes’ team works on building up a database of these patterns of activity to provide computers with the data to single out and recognize these patterns. Through this algorithm, a computer can identify which photo a person in an MRI machine was shown merely by analyzing the image taken of the participant’s brain. “This works remarkably well,” Haynes says. “If you do this simple game, you get an accuracy of up to 100% almost every time.”

To learn more about Haynes’ mind reading attempts, watch the whole talk below:

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