Scientists use EEG machine to create digital images from brain activity


Eye of the Spirit

Neuroscientists at the University of Toronto at Scarborough have developed a new method of recreating images seen by the human brain from electroencephalography (EEG) readings.

“When we see something, our brain creates a mental perception, which is basically a mental impression of that thing,” Dan Nimrodov, the postdoctoral fellow who developed the technique, said in a press release. “We were able to capture this perception using EEG to get a direct illustration of what is going on in the brain during this process.”

Test subjects were hooked up to an EEG machine and presented with images of faces. The image was then digitally recreated as it was seen in the individual’s mind using machine learning techniques to match their brain activity to particular types of facial features.

Previously this was done using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, but there are practical advantages to being able to use EEG to perform the same operation.

On the one hand, EEG machines are quite common, portable, and cheaper than fMRI scanners. They also have better temporal resolution: while an FMRI can capture images in seconds, EEGs can track how the image develops in the brain by milliseconds.

While some have expressed doubts about the suitability of EEGs for such applications, Nimrodov is convinced the results prove otherwise. The next step will be for researchers to extend the process beyond images of faces.

While it can spark potentially frightening applications, the “mind reading” technique could change the lives of many, giving those who are unable to speak or use sign language a way to communicate. It could also allow law enforcement to give a clear picture of what a witness remembers of a particular event. Being able to see what the person saw, without the inconsistencies introduced by after-the-fact testimony, or verbal descriptions of a person’s appearance to a cartoonist, which would completely change the way we investigate a crime .

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John C. Dent

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