What are you looking at? Japan scientists find out

Wed Dec 17, 2008 10:26am EST
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese researchers have reproduced images of things people were looking at by analyzing brain scans, opening the way for people to communicate directly from their mind.

They hope their study, published in the U.S. journal Neuron, will lead to helping people with speech problems or doctors studying mental disorders, although there are privacy issues if it gets to the stage where someone can read a sleeping person's dreams.

"When we want to convey a message, we need to move our body, for example by speaking or by tapping a keyboard," said Yukiyasu Kamitani, the project's head researcher from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, a private institute based in Kyoto, Japan.

"But if we can get information directly from the brain, it will be possible to communicate directly by imagining what we want to say, without having to move," Kamitani said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Such technology might one day open the way to communication for people who cannot speak or help visualize hallucinations to assist doctors diagnosing mental disorders, Kamitani added.

When we see, light is converted into electric signals by the retina, at the back of the eye, then processed by the brain's visual cortex.

Researchers from the five institutions involved in the research used a medical brain scanner to look at activity patterns in the visual cortex.

Kamitani's team calibrated a computer program by scanning two volunteers staring at over 400 different still images in black, white and grey.   Continued...

<p>A graph showing the performance of the FTSE 100 shares is seen through the spectacles of a computer user in Manchester, northern England, October 15, 2008. REUTERS/Phil Noble</p>