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Brain scanning is advanced enough these days that scientists can understand activity in the brain and relate it to specific thought processes. However, until now the ability to “decode” and “read” people’s thoughts was only possible through physical contact. That is now changing through a new at-distance method known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

In the past, scientists would need to conduct invasive tests by implanting electrodes into the brain of a person. A report from The Scientist points to a study posted to the bioRxiv database that shows a new noninvasive scanning method.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) instead charts how oxygenated blood flows through the blood. When brain cells are active, they consume more energy and oxygen, which provides information that allows observers to see and measure brain activity.

This method does not track brain activity in real-time like a traditional MRI. However, during the study scientists were still able to decode what people were thinking (albeit without completely accurate translations).

“If you had asked any cognitive neuroscientist in the world 20 years ago if this was doable, they would have laughed you out of the room,” senior author Alexander Huth, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Scientist.

Future

It is worth noting the study has yet to be peer-reviewed, so it will be interesting to see if its stacks up to scrutiny. Even so, the signs are encouraging.

And not encouraging in a world domination through mind control kind of way. Instead, the team says the research could eventually lead to new computer interfaces to help people who cannot type or speak.

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