Friday, September 23, 2011
The Impossible Is Getting Closer
This is an idea that most of us would find more probable between the covers of science fiction than science fact.
Ever dreamed of recording your dreams and turning them into a video clip? The technology that enables you to do that is near: UC Berkeley scientists figured out a way to turn the way our brains interpret visual stimuli into a video, and the result is amazing.
To be able to do this, the researches used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure the blood flow through brain's visual cortex. Then, different parts of the brain were divided into volumetric pixels or voxels (the term might be familiar to those who remember early 3D games which were based on voxels instead of polygons which are more commonly used today). Finally, the scientists built a computational model which describes how visual information is mapped into brain activity.
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In practice, test subjects viewed some video clips, and their brain activity was recorded by a computer program, which learned how to associate the visual patterns in the movie with the corresponding brain activity.
Then, test subjects viewed a second set of clips. The movie reconstruction algorithm was fed 18 million seconds of random YouTube videos, which were used to teach the program how to predict the brain activity evoked by film clips. Finally, the program chose 100 clips which were most similar to the movie the subject had seen, which were merged to create a reconstruction of the original movie.
The result is a video that shows how our brain sees things, and at moments it's eerily similar to the original imagery.
“This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.”, said Professor Jack Gallant, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist and coauthor of the study published in the journal Current Biology.
Recording our dreams and "reading" the minds of coma patients requires a lot of work still, as current technology only enables scientists to interpret brain activity while the test subject is watching a movie. Ultimately, it could be used to decode how our brain processes visual events in everyday life or, perhaps, our dreams.
Check out another video, which shows the movie reconstruction algorithm at work, below. More details about the study can be found here.