Which of 2 buttons will you push? Now scientists can read your mind
BERLIN – At a laboratory in Germany, volunteers slide into an MRI machine and perform simple tasks, such as deciding whether to add or subtract two numbers, or choosing which of two buttons to press. They have no inkling that scientists in the next room are trying to read their minds – using a brain scan to figure out their intention before it is turned into action. In the past, researchers had been able to predict what physical movements will be made. But researchers at Berlin’s Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience and Leipzig’s Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences claim they have now, for the first time, detected people’s decisions about how they would later do a high-level mental activity, such as adding or subtracting. Still in its initial stages, the techniques may eventually have wide-ranging implications for everything from criminal interrogations to airline security checks. That alarms some ethicists who fear the technology could be abused by authorities, marketers or employers. Tanja Steinbach, a 21-year-old student in Leipzig who participated, found the experiment a bit spooky but wasn’t overly concerned about the civil-liberties implications. “It’s really weird,” she said. “But since I know they’re only able to do this if they have certain machines, I’m not worried that everybody else on the street can read my mind.” Researchers have long used magnetic resonance imaging to identify different types of brain activity, and U.S. scientists have recently developed brain scans designed for lie detection. But outside analysts say the German work led by Dr. John-Dylan Haynes is groundbreaking. “The fact that we can determine what intention a person is holding in … mind pushes the level of our understanding of subjective thought to a whole new level,” said Dr. Paul Wolpe, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor not connected to the study.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!