A new advance in recording and interpreting brain activity will open the door to machines that could record and play back your dreams.
A research team writing in Nature has announced that it has developed a brain-machine interface capable of recording higher level brain activity. Moran Cerf and his team at UCLA have been able to connect the activity of individual neurons with specific images. When an individual thinks about these images, the neurons light up, and, if they are hooked up to a brain-machine interface, can call up a specific image on a computer screen. Cerf's team has been able to identify a handful of these image-specific neurons in each participant in a recent study, specific neurons that light up when an individual thinks about, for example, the Eiffel Tower or Marilyn Monroe.
Researchers have been using these interfaces to try to reconstruct human memories on a computer, and some courts are allowing the use of fMRIs to determine if suspects are guilty of a crime. But this most recent advance gives Cerf hope that neuroscientists could eventually develop a machine that could record dreams based on the firing of image-specific neurons.
The development of such a machine would require the cataloging of thousands of these neurons — a difficult task — but Cerf envisions a great many uses for dream-recording technology:
"It would be wonderful to read people's minds where they cannot communicate, such as people in comas," said Dr Cerf.
He imagines that the technology could give us insight into other people's minds, and perhaps prove a more efficient way of linking the mind and machines than technologies that focus on the brain's motor control regions:
"We can sail with our imaginations and think about all the things we could do if we had access to a person's brain and basically visualise their thoughts.
"For example, instead of just having to write an email you could just think it. Or another futuristic application would be to think a flow of information and have it written in front of your eyes."
Image from Carla Speed McNeil's Finder.