AI technology is advancing rapidly, and the ability to detect what people are picturing through brain waves is a particularly frightening development. Recently, an AI-powered system was unveiled that could take brainwave readings from an MRI machine and generate a sketch of what the subject was imagining.
The implications of this technology are far-reaching and can be easily abused. It has the potential to become a powerful tool in interrogations or other law enforcement contexts, where authorities could potentially use it to determine thought crimes or even force confessions from suspects. It also raises privacy concerns as it could allow for unauthorized access to our innermost thoughts and fantasies without consent.
Zijiao Chen can read your mind, with a little help from powerful artificial intelligence and an fMRI machine.
Chen, a doctoral student at the National University of Singapore, is part of a team of researchers that has shown they can decode human brain scans to tell what a person is picturing in their mind, according to a paper released in November.
Their team, made up of researchers from the National University of Singapore, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Stanford University, did this by using brain scans of participants as they looked at more than 1,000 pictures — a red firetruck, a gray building, a giraffe eating leaves — while inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, or fMRI, which recorded the resulting brain signals over time. The researchers then sent those signals through an AI model to train it to associate certain brain patterns with certain images.
Later, when the subjects were shown new images in the fMRI, the system detected the patient’s brain waves, generated a shorthand description of what it thought those brain waves corresponded to and used an AI image-generator to produce a best-guess facsimile of the image the participant saw.
The results are startling and dreamlike. An image of a house and driveway resulted in a similarly colored amalgam of a bedroom and living room. An ornate stone tower shown to a study participant-generated images of a similar tower, with windows situated at unreal angles. A bear became a strange, shaggy, doglike creature.
The resulting generated image matched the attributes (color, shape, etc.) and semantic meaning of the original image roughly 84% of the time.
How Does This System Work?
The system works by taking brainwave readings from an fMRI scanner (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which allows researchers to measure blood flow in the brain when someone is thinking about something specific. From these readings, AI algorithms can detect patterns associated with various images that the participant has seen before. Then, using AI image-generators, it can produce a best-guess facsimile of the image that the participant saw.
What Are The Benefits?
At its core, this application of AI presents exciting possibilities for medical research into neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia – fields where understanding atypical cognitive processes are key to finding cures or treatments for those affected by them.
This technology may open up new ways of interpreting creative expression; artists may be able to create works based on thoughts captured directly from their own brains rather than traditional methods like painting or sculpting physical objects.
While the experiment requires training the model on each individual participant’s brain activity over the course of roughly 20 hours before it can deduce images from fMRI data, researchers believe that in just a decade the technology could be used on anyone, anywhere.
“It might be able to help disabled patients to recover what they see, what they think,” Chen said. In the ideal case, Chen added, humans won’t even have to use cell phones to communicate. “We can just think.”
The results involved only a handful of study subjects, but the findings suggest the team’s noninvasive brain recordings could be a first step toward decoding images more accurately and efficiently from inside the brain.
Researchers have been working on technology to decode brain activity for over a decade. And many AI researchers are currently working on various neuro-related applications of AI, including similar projects such as those from Meta and the University of Texas at Austin to decode speech and language.
What Are The Potential Dangers?
Unfortunately, there are many dangers associated with such powerful technology falling into the wrong hands – whether malicious individuals who seek mind control over others or oppressive governments seeking surveillance capabilities – allowing them unprecedented access into our most personal thoughts and feelings against our will. In addition, there is always concern about data security as any biometric information collected must remain secure so that it cannot fall into the wrong hands or be used improperly in any way whatsoever.
While AI-based systems can now detect what people picture through their brainwaves, we must consider both their benefits and its potential risks carefully before deploying them widely.
While such technology could revolutionize medical research and artistry alike, we must make sure that safeguards exist so that its power isn’t misused by those looking for mind control over others. Even though this might appear highly unlikely, no one should have unrestricted access to our private mental spaces without consent.