Imagine if your best friend -or even worse, your boss- could read your thoughts! It sounds like the stuff from Star Trek but scientists are now experimenting with technology that could do just that.
The technology they are using is the electroencephalogram, or EEG. This is a machine that detects the brain’s electrical activity and records it onto paper or a computer as wavy lines.
This image is the first human EEG, which was recorded in 1924. The recordings are taken using electrodes, which are flat metal discs that are placed at specific points on your scalp or are fitted into a special cap that you can wear. The electrodes pick up the electrical signals in your brain as they jump across your synapses and transfer the signals to the EEG machine. This records the activity as lines like this one.
EEG tests are usually used by doctors to help them diagnose conditions that affect the brain, such as epilepsy or for detecting head injuries. Scientists are now experimenting with them to see if it is possible to read people’s thoughts through them.
Similar experiments have already occurred in the computer games industry. Emotiv Systems have created a game which uses an EEG to record a players’ brain activity for six seconds. The player then has to repeat the exact same brain signals and, if successful, they will be able to manipulate an image on the computer screen. Of course, this isn’t actually reading your thoughts as you could have been thinking about anything during the game. As long as you can replicate the brain activity it recorded you will win.
At the moment it isn’t possible to decipher exact thoughts through an EEG but they can be used to successfully detect people’s emotions and when they are lying! This is done by combining the EEG recording with image scans of the brain to see in which area the electrical activity originated.
This has real potential to help those suffering from Locked-In Syndrome (who are only able to communicate using very basic means such as blinking) and even those with Total Locked-In Syndrome, where they are totally paralysed and cannot communicate at all.
At present then, it isn’t possible for your boss to read your mind… but they might be able to work out how you really feel about them!
Can your students think of any pros or cons to this technology?
How would you feel if the police started using EEG’s and brain scans in their investigations? Would you happily take the test?
The mind-reading EEG cap is on display in the Who Am I? gallery on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Wing.