Twenty-First Century Mind-Reading

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Twenty-First Century Mind-Reading

Ever since it was discovered that the brain works by generating electrical impulses, which give off brain waves, the idea of reading those waves has been tantalizing. In the past decades, moderate strides were made, but recently, the ability to record brain activity and then apply that knowledge to useful ends has been increasing.

What began in the late 1950s as an ability to record a single neuron at a time has progressed to today’s ability to record the activity from hundreds of neurons simultaneously.

In a meta-analysis of 56 studies conducted since the 1950s that recorded the activity of neurons in animals or humans, researchers at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago discovered that the number of simultaneously recorded single neurons has doubled every seven years due to continued improvements in technology and data analysis.

This increase is significant in the move toward reading the mind, since more data points offer a better understanding of what’s happening at any given moment in the brain.

Scientists at the Rehabilitation Institute are themselves involved in ground-breaking research to restore connections in the brain that are lost due to stroke or spinal cord injury.1 Using data from neurons, researchers are working on ways to reestablish those connections through cutting-edge technologies such as brain-machine interfaces, functional electronic stimulation, and virtual reality.

Other work is proving that it is indeed possible to record information from the brain and then use it to mimic natural neuronal activity. Researchers at the Tel Aviv University have successfully implanted a robotic cerebellum in a brain-damaged rodent that restored its ability for movement.2

The chip in the robotic cerebellum was designed to receive, interpret, and transmit sensory information from the brain stem, allowing it to provide the communication between the brain and body. Simple blinking movements in response to stimuli are the early results. Without the robotic cerebellum functioning, this movement was not possible.

When we hear about research into mind reading, it is difficult not to think in nefarious terms, picturing someone eavesdropping in on our thoughts or stealing our ideas. The research today is much more humanitarian in its vision, from making life more convenient, to helping those who are paralyzed regain the capacity for movement.

The goal is to harness the power of brain waves to deliver a positive outcome. For example, researchers at the University of California in Berkeley have conducted research into ways to help patients with brain damage speak again...

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