Scientists read minds at the speed of thought

Brain monitoring

Subjects viewed a random sequence of images of faces and houses and were asked to look for an inverted house like the one at bottom left. “That was a distractor,” Jeff Ojemann said. “We were interested in what the brain was doing at the other times.” (Credit: Kai Miller / Brian Donohue / UW)

University of Washington neuroscientists and their colleagues have developed a system that uses electrodes implanted in the human brain’s temporal lobe to decode brain signals at nearly the speed of perception.

“Clinically, you could think of our result as a proof of concept toward building a communication mechanism for patients who are paralyzed or have had a stroke and are completely locked-in,” Rajesh Rao, a UW professor who directs the Center for Sensorimotor Engineering, said in a news release.

The study was published Jan. 28 in PLOS Computational Biology.

Rao and his colleagues inserted the electrodes into the brains of epilepsy patients undergoing care at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. The patients’ seizures couldn’t be relieved by medication alone, so they were given the implants temporarily in an attempt to locate the seizures’ focal points.

“They were going to get the electrodes no matter what,” said Jeff Ojemann, a neurosurgeon at UW Medicine. “We were just giving them additional tasks to do during their hospital stay while they are otherwise just waiting around.”

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About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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