Mind Field (2017) s03e08 Episode Script

Mind Reading

Mind reading? Of course not.
I love reading.
Look, mind reading might sound like pseudoscientific-- pardon my language-- bullshoot.
But its scientific counterpart, thought identification, is very much a real thing.
It's based in neuroimaging and machine learning, and what's really cool is that experiments in mind reading aren't just about spying on what someone is thinking.
They're about figuring out what thoughts are even made of.
I mean, when I think of something, what does that mental picture actually look like? What resolution is it in? How high fidelity is a memory, and how do they change over time? Well, in this episode, I'm going to look at how reading people's minds can help us answer these questions.
My journey begins right here at the University of Oregon.
I'm meeting with Dr.
Brice Kuhl from the Kuhl lab.
He's a neuroscientist who uses neuroimaging and machine learning to figure out what people are thinking without them telling him.
So tell me what you're doing here.
Well, I'm in the cognitive neuroscience program here, and I study human memory.
My lab primarily uses neuroimaging methods, so we do a lot of work using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.
And how do you use fMRI to investigate memories? We're looking at the pattern of neural activity.
When you form a memory, there's a certain pattern.
And we can record that pattern and then test whether that pattern is reinstated or reactivated at a later point, like when you're remembering it.
Does that mean we can look at the patterns of brain activity and deduce what it is that is being remembered, or recalled, or even just thought? Yes, and so we call that decoding.
So it basically takes your input pattern as some pattern of activity that we record while you're remembering something.
And we make a prediction about what you're remembering.
You can see how this sounds like mind reading.
[laughs] Yes.
It sounds like that.
So, Brice, what are you going to do to me today? So, what we're going to be doing today is uncharted territory for us.
So we're going to be trying out a kind of new variant of the experiment on you.
So I can't guarantee any particular results.
But it represents where the field is and where we're trying to go.
Today, you're going to participate in an experiment where you'll be studying faces.
So we're going to have you study 12 pictures of celebrities.
People I already am familiar with.
-People that you know, yeah.
-Okay.
And you're going to try to remember those pictures.
Then we're going to have you go into the MRI scanner.
Try to bring that picture to mind as vividly as possible.
And we're going to be recording your brain activity as you try to imagine these pictures.
We're going to try to build the face.
Essentially draw a picture of what you're remembering.
-A picture? -A picture.
An actual picture that we can print out and I could, like, hang on my wall.
[laughs] If you wanted.
[Michael] The first step is for me to memorize the 12 specific celebrity photographs Brice will later try to detect me thinking about.
I sat down to do this graduate student, Max.
The success of his predictions depend, in part, on my ability to recall these faces as vividly as possible while inside the fMRI.
All right, so [sighs] I think I have a pretty good memory of all of those.
-Great.
-I feel the stakes are high.
With the celebrity faces hopefully memorized, it's time for the next step: going through the metal detector and into the fMRI, where Brice will record and monitor my brain activity, and then later feed it into his algorithm to rebuild the faces.
This will be the first time he's attempted to reconstruct faces from long-term memory, which is very difficult, because we're relying on how clearly I can remember the celebrity photos I saw an hour ago.
I love its eyes.
Look at that.
[woman] Wouldn't the kid be like, "It's going to eat me"? An fMRI monitors the activity within the brain by dividing it up into thousands of small cubes called voxels, or volumetric pixels.
Each of these voxels contains hundreds of thousands of neurons.
Using fMRI, we are able to detect blood flow within these voxels, which means that that part of the brain is active.
If I'm shown several pictures of people with mustaches, my brain will react to the features for each face.
But there will be a common area of my brain that is engaged throughout.
That may be the area of my brain that reacts to mustaches.
So later, when I imagine a face, if Brice notices that area is engaged, he can predict that I am thinking about a mustache.
So right now Michael's in the scanner, and he's seeing words appear on the screen one at a time, and he's trying to visualize the face, remember the face in as much detail as possible.
What you can see here are the images that we're acquiring.
We get one of these brain volumes every two seconds.
So these are refreshing in real time as we collect the images.
[Michael] With part one of the fMRI session over, it's time for part two, where Brice and his team will learn the language of my brain activity, so they can later decode by brain scans.
Hi, Michael.
You doing okay still? [Michael] Yup.
They'll show me hundreds of unique faces, and record how my brain reacts to certain facial characteristics.
They will then use this information to reconstruct the celebrity faces I thought about during the first phase of the scan.
Really, the more faces that we can show Michael, the better.
So we're going to basically keep him in there as long as he's comfortable.
[Michael] Two hours was the maximum time we could get in the fMRI.
But I was able to look at over 400 faces, which should be enough to get some pretty interesting results.
Hey, Michael, you did it.
That was great.
We're going to come get you out.
[Michael] All right.
Yeah, so these just show some of the pictures that we were taking while you were in there.
Some images of your brain.
Now we are going to crunch some numbers.
Max is going to analyze your data.
We'll meet up again tomorrow, where we'll look at the results, where we try to actually reconstruct the face images from the brain data that we just collected.
All right.
Well, see you tomorrow.
All right.
Thanks a lot.
Max, thank you as well.
I can't wait.
You better pull an all-nighter.
I want this data to be perfect.
All right, so I am back at Dr.
Kuhl's lab.
Overnight, his team crunched the data, and I can't wait to see what they think they saw me thinking.
How are my results? I think they look good.
We're going to take a look in just a moment here.
All right, I can't wait.
-So can I just take a seat? -Yeah, have a seat.
All right, so first of all what am I seeing? Oh, okay, well, these are the pictures I actually memorized.
-That's right.
-And this is what you've reconstructed from my imagination.
-That's right.
-Oh, wow.
Okay.
[Brice] Okay, so this is one of the reconstructions that was generated.
[Michael] Interesting.
[Max] So that's John Cho.
[Michael] Not bad.
Not bad.
-Can we see the side by side? -Yeah.
[Michael] I see, you know, similarities in the kind of facial expressions in general.
You know, you could almost see the hairline matching here.
The shape of the face I also thought was-- It kind of had a square shape to it.
-Yes.
Yes.
-So those are the things that came out to me.
And so when I was visualizing this image of John Cho, the squareness of the face was the first, most salient thing.
I just kept thinking, he was the square guy.
Excellent, all right.
[Brice] So that's Megan Fox.
[Michael] Mm-hmm.
You're going to show us the-- side by side.
[Michael] The side by side.
Right.
[Brice] You can see the picture you actually saw, and that's the reconstruction we generated.
I'll you this.
Megan Fox, I was not able to have a really clear picture in my mind.
For some reason, this image of her was really hard for me to bring back into my mind.
The sternness in the face was something that I did pick up on.
So I did sense that there was-- It looked feminine.
And you picked up on the sternness.
And so together, that produces a match.
[Michael] Keep in mind that Brice and his team have read these from my memory.
But when I remember a face, do I picture every detail simultaneously with photographic accuracy? Or do I just attend to a few at a time? By reading my mind, they may be seeing how bad my memory is, and how it works.
-Me! Me! -[Brice laughs] Okay, so that is your reconstruction of me thinking about this image of myself.
[Brice] That's right.
Where'd the beard go? [Brice] I don't know.
I was hoping you could tell me.
[Michael] For instance, this is a picture of me remembering my own face.
It really doesn't look like me, but the question is: how good am I at picturing myself? I don't think of my own face that often, so the strangeness in the result may be as much about flaws in my own memory and mental picture of myself as flaws in the technology.
So that's Jennifer Lawrence, I believe.
[Michael] That's Jennifer Lawrence? It looks like it's Jennifer Lawrence's much older uncle.
[all chuckle] Nothing here was too mind-blowingly close.
But this is something that you're just starting out trying these sort of long-term memories.
What Brice and his team read in my mind might have been more accurate if they'd shown me thousands rather than hundreds of images in the fMRI, because then the algorithm would have learned the language of my brain more thoroughly.
But regardless, the quality of my memories would have still been an issue.
I mean, look what happens when memory is cut out of the equation entirely.
Brice also read my brain activity when I was looking at faces in the fMRI.
not just imagining them.
And those results were much closer than those reconstructed from my memory.
Okay, so, what am I looking at right here? [Brice] Okay, so what you're seeing here in the top row, these are images that you saw while you were in the scanner.
Below that, in this bottom row, these are the reconstructions that we draw from the patterns of brain activity we collected.
-This is from the source image.
-Right.
[Michael] These are from my brain.
-[Brice] Right.
-[Michael] They're pretty close.
Yeah, overall they were pretty close.
So not perfect.
These are-- you can see there's some variability in these.
But this is consistent with what we've found before, that the reconstructions that we generated, when you're viewing the faces, there is some correspondence between the actual face.
So this is kind of a sanity check, that we can actually reconstruct the images -when you're viewing them.
-Right, right.
They're pretty good.
Well, Brice, Max, thank you so much for letting me be a part of this.
I hope my data's useful.
Thank you.
It's been a lot of fun.
It's always useful for us to think about these things.
Dr.
Brice Kuhl's memory research is showing that it's possible for a computer to read someone's mind.
To figure out what they're thinking.
But a lot of progress still needs to be made.
I mean, if you want to know what I'm thinking right now, for example, it's still easier to just ask me to tell you.
But what if I can't tell you? Dr.
Yukiyasu Kamitani is a researcher, professor and pioneer exploring the frontier behind the wall of sleep.
I've come here to Kyoto University to meet with him and to see what it's like to read not what someone is thinking, but what someone is dreaming.
Kamitani sensei, I'm Michael.
-Hi, I'm Yuki.
-Yuki, nice to meet you.
[Michael] For the last ten years, Dr.
Kamitani has been at the forefront of machine mind reading.
The subject is, you know, ready to go in.
Similar to Brice Kuhl, his early experiments explored reconstructing images shown to subjects in an fMRI based on their brain activity.
In Kamitani's case, the images were black-and-white shapes, and the reconstructions were strikingly accurate.
Recently, Kamitani has focused on using deep neural networks and machine learning to decipher subjects' brain activity while they view much more complex photographs.
What you're seeing is the result of a deep neural network processing the brain activity of a subject looking at the photograph.
This could have myriad applications in the future, for example, in criminal investigations and interpersonal communication.
[Kamitani] This is far from perfect.
But I think you still see some, you know, eyes and, you know [Michael] Well, yeah.
And colors too.
[Kamitani] Yeah, to some extent, yeah.
His most current work, however, is about the subconscious.
He's attempting something extremely ambitious: recording our dreams.
Would you call yourself a sleep researcher, or a vision researcher? Maybe a brain decoder.
A brain decoder.
That's a pretty cool job description.
Can you show me anything from what you're doing with dreams? [Kamitani] Mm-hmm, yeah.
Dr.
Kamitani's work on dream decoding begins with a similar process to Dr.
Kuhl's: showing the test subject thousands of images while they are in an fMRI in order to learn what the brain looks like when it is thinking of certain things.
Once the machine-learning algorithm is pretty good at identifying what images the subject is thinking about, the subject is placed in an fMRI with an EEG cap on their head, and invited to fall asleep.
When the EEG waves indicate that the person is dreaming, the algorithm predicts which kinds of things the subject is most likely dreaming about.
Right now, the algorithm looks for 20 categories.
Things like buildings, transportation, and characters in a language.
Researchers then awaken the subject, ask them what they were dreaming about, and see if the algorithm's prediction and the person's recollection match.
Here is actual data from one of Kamitani's experiments.
Below is a word cloud of categories.
The name of each category get bigger or smaller in real time based on the probability that they are present in the subject's current dream.
Now, as you can see, activity is currently strongest for the category "character," meaning written language.
At this point the subject was awoken, and this is what they reported.
That's pretty spooky.
-[laughs] -Right? I mean, you-- you spied on their dream.
Yeah, in a way.
But the accuracy's not that great, so Well, the accuracy's not that great but, you know, my normal accuracy for guessing people's dreams is zero.
Right.
While continuing his research into predicting the content of dreams, Dr.
Kamitani is embarking on his newest project: actually reconstructing images from our dreams.
So you've brought some of the reconstructions that your lab has created Mm-hmm.
of dreams.
Right, they all look like dreams about blobs.
[Kamitani] Yeah.
I mean, I want to just take a step back and appreciate that what we're looking at on this screen are, in a way, some of the first photographs of a dream.
Mm-hmm.
We are looking at the earliest phase of revolutionary research.
One day, we may able to have images, or even record movies, of our own dreams.
And Dr.
Kamitani is the only person in the world doing this so far.
He's a lone explorer journeying into our subconscious.
So this work hasn't even been published yet.
No.
-Thank you for showing it to me.
-[laughs] The insights that researchers like Dr.
Kuhl and Dr.
Kamitani might be capable of achieving in the future because of mind reading are difficult to fully fathom.
But let's slow down for a second, because we're talking about a technology that can know us better than we know ourselves.
Should we really be doing this? Well, to address that question, I'm going to meet with an expert in ethics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence: Julia Bossmann.
She's the director of strategy at Fathom Computing, a council member of the World Economic Forum, an alum of Ray Kurzweil's Singularity University, and a former president of the Foresight Institute, a think tank specializing in future technologies and their impacts.
Julia, thanks for taking some time to chat.
-Yeah, of course.
-You are the perfect person for me to bring these questions to.
-Mm-hmm.
-And they're deep questions.
But I think they're extremely important, and they're becoming more and more pressing.
I think we're living in such an interesting time right now, because we're in this time where brains and machines are actually moving closer together.
So when it comes to being able to look at brain activity, where are the ethical lines here? How private should my internal thoughts be? Like with any powerful technology, it depends on the hands that wield it.
All these new technologies are things that can make whoever uses them more powerful.
So we want to not blame the technology, but we want to-- how is it being used, and who is using it? So how do we make sure that this technology is in the right hands? So I think it's very important to involve people who act on policy and law to understand what is coming in the future.
I am hopeful about the collaborative aspect of it.
Let's talk about the good things now.
I mean, what are the applications here? Yeah, so if we think about the late Stephen Hawking, for example, if he had a way of richer interfacing with the world or with computers, we can only imagine what he could have shared with us.
Those with locked-in syndrome, right? They are there.
They know that they are there.
But we just need something to look into their brain to see what it is that they are trying to say, -or what they're feeling.
-Right, exactly.
So, what do you say to people that have that kind of fear of technology, of us surrendering our true natural selves to technology? There is something enticing about getting to the next level of what some people might call a human evolution or civilization development, and so on.
In a way, we are already not living natural lives, right? Because then most of us would die before the age of, I don't know, 30 or 40.
We would have all kinds of diseases.
We would not wear this clothing.
We wouldn't have eyeglasses or contact lenses.
We wouldn't have antibiotics.
[Julia] We are already kind of very futuristic cyborgs if we compare ourselves to the human that was living 10,000 years ago and was genetically almost identical with who we are now.
[Michael] Yeah, we really are.
In order to understand cognition, right now we basically have to either just ask people to talk about what they're thinking, or observe their behavior.
But reading thoughts directly would be a lot better.
That is how Dr.
Kuhl is studying memory, and it's how Dr.
Kamitani is studying sleep and dreams.
But even though the technology has a long way to go, it's easy to see how ethical questions could become an issue.
Well, here's the thing: there is no such thing as a totally wild human.
We are co-evolving with technology.
Humans and technology today are inseparable.
Now, it's true that we need to be careful about every new thing we do, but we cannot change the fact that they will happen.
It's a story we've lived through again and again.
You know, we could have sat around forever debating whether or not a speed limit should exist and who should have the authority to enforce it.
But we didn't.
Instead, we went ahead and invented cars, and responsibly figured out the details as we went along.
Ethical questions about new technologies do the most good when they facilitate the technology, not when they needlessly hinder progress.
So follow your dreams.
And, as soon as you can, show them to me.
And, as always, thanks for watching.