There's nothing a good Sci-Fi thriller, conspiracy theorist, or high-tech spy movie loves more than the idea of using a computer to read someone's mind. It's the ultimate way of attaining information. A person won't tell you who they work for? Just hook up some wires and find out for yourself! Well, we may just be headed to a place where we can do just that.
A new study published in Science has found a neural footprint for speech recognition, and they can determine not only what was said, but who said it.
The study used a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a data-mining algorithm to take a look at the neural response to speech. Seven study subjects listened to three different speech sounds (the vowels /a/, /i/ and /u/) spoken by three different people. The neural patterns contained both bits of information. The 'neural fingerprint' reflected the sound being made and yet there were specific 'speaker's fingerprints' which were maintained between the different sounds.
"These cortical fingerprints are spatially distributed and insensitive to acoustic variations of the input so as to permit the brain-based recognition of learned speech from unknown speakers and of learned voices from previously unheard utterances," the researchers write in their paper.
While some people might find this exciting as it helps decode how we understand speech and may lead to better speech recognition software, I think it's exciting for a wholly different reason. If everything we hear is translated to a specific, distinguishable neural fingerprint, what's to say we can't read a person's mind?
Sure, we'd need a lot more than 3 people and /a/ /i/ /u/ sounds, but isn't it possible? Isn't it entirely within reasonable speculation that we might create a technology that can decipher even the most complex of these neural fingerprints? If our neural network stores such information in memories, isn't it possible to make someone think about a person and Voila! we know who they're thinking about? I'd be shocked if this isn't where the technology in this study goes eventually - of course, we might not know about it. If I were the CIA or FBI I wouldn't let the general public know we could read minds.
Or maybe they already can...