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Technology and Health News > Saturday, March-22-2008

Postcards from the mind

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have been able to associate a brain activation pattern to the memory of an image. According to a study in Nature.

Reading the thoughts of other people is not yet possible, but scientists are working on it. One tool developed by Jack L. Gallant and collaborators at the University of Berkeley (California) is able to recognize an image that a person has just seen through his brain activity.

Two of the authors of the study published in Nature - Kendrick Kay and Thomas Naselaris - were submitted in person by observing the experiment at random photographs from a group of 120 during brain scans using functional magnetic resonance (fMri). The results of fMri, combined with a mathematical model, have served to associate the images neuronal activity that a person has just had before our eyes.

The researchers divided the area of visual cortex in a checkerboard of small cubes and created a mathematical model to describe how each of these three-dimensional units responds to the different characteristics of the visual stimulus.

The system is unable to reconstruct an image from a cerebral unknown, but knows to brecognize among a set of photographs that it has already in memory. In a first phase of the experiment, in fact, Kay and Naselaris have observed a large number of images while the camera memorized the configuration corresponding to the brain. The recognition, in the next step, was to compare with the stored archive. According to the experiment, the probability that the machine recognizes the image ranges from 70 percent to 90 for Kay and Naselaris. Probability that decreases with increasing number of images, due to the fact of higher possibility that the images have elements in common. "One day perhaps it will be possible to reconstruct the content of dreams or memory," says Gallant, "but certainly talking about a very distant future."

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