Mind-Reading Infrared Device Knows If You Want a Milkshake

By Eliza Strickland | February 11, 2009 10:58 am

mind readingIn a new experiment, researchers didn’t have to ask their test subjects whether they’d prefer coffee or tea; instead, they just read their minds. With a nifty bit of technical wizardry, researchers beamed near-infrared light at the volunteers’ foreheads while asking them to mentally decide which of two beverages they liked better. By examining how the light was absorbed by the volunteers’ brain tissue, researchers were able to predict a person’s preference with 80 percent accuracy.

Lead researcher Tom Chau says he hopes a similar device can one day help people with severe cerebral palsy or neuromuscular conditions that keep them paralyzed in unresponsive bodies. “Basically their mind is alert,” he said. “This is kind of the compelling argument behind the work, that these individuals are cognitively capable – they’re aware of their surroundings, they understand what’s going on – but they have no means of communicating their intentions or preferences to the outside world” [Canadian Press].

Coauthor Sheena Luu adds that the device could use simple preferences to build up to larger decisions and thoughts. “If we limit the context – limit the question and available answers, as we have with predicting preference – then mind-reading becomes possible” [The Register], she says.

In the study, published in the Journal of Neural Engineering [subscription required], researchers fitted volunteers with headbands that shone near-infrared light into their prefrontal cortexes, and detectors that measured the intensity of the light when it bounced back out. When a region of the brain becomes active, it requires more oxygen, Luu explained. “This increase in oxygen concentration changes the absorption of light that passes through that brain tissue. And so we can map out the areas of the brain that are active and non-active when a person looks at a drink that they like, compared to when they look at a drink they don’t really like” [Canadian Press].

But people’s patterns of brain activity differ, Luu says: “In some people, their brains are more active when they don’t like something, and in some people they’re more active when they do like something” [The Register]. The research teams had to teach the device how to decode the pattern associated with each individual, but they say that after a few trial runs, the machine was off to the telepathic races.

Related Content:
80beats: Monkeys Use an Electronic Brain Interface to Move Paralyzed Limbs
80beats: Mind-Controlled Video Game Gets a Tryout in Japan

Image: flickr / jbcurio

  • Bob

    I can see it now:

    ANNOUNCER: “Have this happened to you before?”

    OFFICER: “Sir, have been drinking?” [officer points a light to the driver’s head]
    MAN: [without saying a word]
    OFFICER: “Sir, please step out of the car.”

    BOSS: “Jenkins! Do you have that report?” [boss points a light to an employee’s head]
    MAN: [without saying a word]
    BOSS: “You’re Fired!”

    WIFE: “Honey, do I look fat.” [She points a light to her husband’s head]
    MAN: [without saying a word]
    WIFE: [she’s slaps her husband and run off into the bedroom crying]

    ANNOUNCER: “You need Mine-Mind an anti-near infrared cap that blocks the light from reaching your head–preventing those who want to read your mind.

    CLIENT: “If god wanted us to read people’s minds, he would have made us all psychics.”

    ANNOUNCER “Don’t like this happen to you–Get the Mine-Mind cap today!”

  • Bob Snyder

    Dear Bob,

    You give all the Bob’s in the world a bad image. Please refrain from posting on the Internet in the future. Thank you.


  • Corey

    Dear Bob Snyder,

    I think that is very rude and you are nothing more than a jerk. It’s not like he was supporting terrorism or racism he was just thinking that this would be a good ad and wanted to tell other people. Maybe you should just stop posting on the internet until you learn some manners. Thank you.


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    I thought the first Bob’s comments were funny. If we can’t joke about dystopian futures, then the corporate, mind-reading overlords have already won.

  • Ben

    We can joke about dystopian futures as much as we like, I think we’d all prefer though if the jokes weren’t desperately unamusing.

  • Ben

    Although saying that I’d urge Bob not to give up the dream, you can’t hit a home run every time.

  • Ryan

    I’m with Bob 2.

  • Bill

    I believe that a near infrared light exposure over an extended period of time will be harmful to the brain/skin cells since infrared is basically heat. But, it would have been useful if they explained at which wavelength this was done, which part of the brain they were looking at, how long was the exposure, were they injected first with anything, why would parts of the brain absorb infrared differently when I’m deciding coffee instead of tea, and why not do it in the sun since there’s infrared there too…

    I hate it when news outlets report scientific findings, because it’s mostly done by a highschool level reporter. Just ask yourself how many times have you heard about the water as fuel in cars? Or the cure of cancer? Or the mind reader? or or or… and how many of them were actually serious research and not just a way for dumb scientists and light-headed reporters that just wanted to spin their wheels?!

    But for the rest of you… enjoy!

  • Chubbee

    I think both Bobs have received enough infared brain bombardment to qualify for infared lobotomy. Nyuk nyuk nyuk

  • Chubbee

    Oh, and Corey, your treatments will start in 5 minutes.

  • Dean

    I have to agree with Bob 2 as well.

  • Ergo Sum

    Bob’s joke is absolutely the best post so far on this topic. Humour helps us to perceive the ramifications of new technology.

  • Jeff

    Bob’s joke is satire. I didn’t laugh, but I felt shaken up about the Big Brother future he thinks we may encounter. Bob #2, why do you go around starting fights on the Internet?

  • http://hellyeah.com Joe Crisps

    Bob Snyder, Corey, Ben. Stop being politically correct tight asses


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