A Machine Knows Your Thoughts: Mind-Reading Experiment Recreates Faces You Look At From Your fMRI Brain Scans

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A Machine Knows Your Thoughts: Mind-Reading Experiment Recreates Faces You Look At From Your fMRI Brain Scans


A group of researchers has successfully found a way to read our minds using brain scans.

In a study involving the use of fMRI scans (or Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and described by Wikipedia as ? a functional neuroimaging procedure using MRI technology that measures brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow.?), the team was able to recreate the faces of individuals that were shown to a group of test subjects by scanning the brains of the subjects.

A lot of excitement resulted from these results, particularly on the possibility of reconstructing facial images of ?criminals? from the minds of witnesses, as well as in studies relating to autistic children.

How did they do it?

The researchers showed test subjects a series of photographs and then used an fMRI scanner to monitor the brain activity of the subjects, until they were able to recreate the photographs.

A total of 300 images (from a set of 600) of people’s faces were shown to 6 test subjects while they were monitored with fMRI scans.

Using the results of the scans, the researchers, headed by Alan S. Cowen, an undergraduate student at Yale University, reconstructed the facial images.

Cowen’s professor in psychology, cognitive science and neurobiology, Marvin Chun, explained that ?It is a form of mind reading.?

He added that the advanced capabilities of fMRI scans previously enabled scientists to utilize data from the scans, to determine if the person was viewing a coastline or a cityscape, or whether the individual was viewing a building or an animal. But, Chun said, it could not tell which animal or building the person is viewing.

Cowen’s group, however, made a gigantic step forward in using the same technology in recreating facial images from brain scan data. Chun exclaims that ?This is a different level of sophistication.?

This development was brought about by Alan S. Cowen’s desire to know if it was possible to recreate a person’s face from patterns obtained from brain scans. It is fortunate, the researchers say, that our brain processes more information about human faces versus other things we see.

Cowen said that ? We perceive faces in a much greater level of detail than we perceive other things. In this respect, he added that ?You can even imagine, way down the road, a witness to a crime might want to come in and reconstruct a suspect?s face.?

The team, however, felt it was going to be a more difficult task than previous experiments since human faces are much more similar to each other unlike buildings which may have more distinct qualities.

They were delighted, however, when the recreated images were accurate enough to match from the set of 600 photographs that were used in the study.


Cowen believes that they will be able to improve on the accuracy of the facial recreations and sees it as a valuable tool in studying how children with autism respond to the faces of people.

Professor Chun also noted that his students and other Yale undergraduates showed much ambition and innovativeness in their project. He said that ?This methodology not only represents a novel and promising approach for investigating face perception, but also suggests avenues for reconstructing ?offline? visual experiences?including dreams, memories, and imagination?which are chiefly represented in higher-level cortical areas.?


Photo Source: Alan S. Cowen / Yale University

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