Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reading My Intentions

Quick! What am I thinking?

You can't read my mind? So far no one can truly do that, but science is getting closer all the time.

Think back to the last action movie you watched. There's a pretty good chance that the climactic scene involved the bad guy putting a gun to some helpless blonde female's head or a finger on a red-pulsing doomsday button. You and the hero of the movie are left wondering, "Is he really going to do it?"

A researcher named John-Dylan Haynes from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences now has a way to find out, with a success rate of 70%. This was made possible by a new combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging and sophisticated computer algorithms (Current Biology, 20th February 2007, online: 8th February). Of course, you'd have to put the bad guy's head in an MRI machine….


In short, while being imaged using the MRI technique, test subjects were told they would be shown two numbers and had to decide beforehand if they would add them together or subtract one from the other, then the numbers were shown to them. In that moment of decision before the numbers were shown, results showed that certain areas of the brain were being utilized in different ways, making it possible to predict what the test subjects' intentions were. The authors point out the potential uses of this technology, such as helping guide artificial limbs or computer cursors for the handicapped.

Now if only this could be used in more mundane situations. For instance, tonight I was eating Haagen-Dazs ice cream while watching a movie ("Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers"), and my wife might have been wondering, "Is he going to hog the entire container again?" Important decisions were on the line, such as leaving me in chocolaty ice cream bliss to enjoy seeing orcs hacked to pieces, or to yell, "Hey, lard-butt, stop bogarting the ice cream!" As it was, being the wonderful caring person she is, she left me in bliss, no doubt trusting me to leave some for her.

I ate it all. Call me a glutton. Mmmm. Mayan chocolate flavor!

What? I had every _intention_ of sharing….


BioBoy said...

Mind-reading! Erk, clearly Big Brother's most desired technology. What government wouldn't like to know what all of its citizens are thinking? And I'm not just talking about ferreting out criminals. One could potentially finger subservsives that want to do away with the current goverment. Wait, that's me!

Fortunately, the technology is currently in its infancy. Only simple questions can be determined while the subject has their head in an fMRI machine, and with mere 70% accuracy. But, with the consistent advances in electronics, particularly in wireless and miniaturization, perhaps your thoughts while walking down the street won't be as safe as you think...

Jim said...

So apparently when Spielberg made Minority Report he had inside information on future technology. Either that or he's psychic!