What if a map of the brain could help us decode people's inner thoughts?
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have taken a step in that direction by building a "semantic atlas" that shows in vivid colours and multiple dimensions how the human brain organizes language. The atlas identifies brain areas that respond to words that have similar meanings.
The findings, published in the journal Nature and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), are based on a brain imaging study that recorded neural activity while study volunteers listened to stories from "The Moth Radio Hour." They show that at least 1/3 of the brain's cerebral cortex -- including areas dedicated to high-level cognition -- is involved in language processing.
Notably, the study found that different people share similar language maps. "The similarity in semantic topography across different subjects is really surprising," said study lead author Alex Huth, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
When spoken words fail.
Detailed maps showing how the brain organizes different words by their meanings could eventually help give voice to those who cannot speak, such as people who have had a stroke, brain damage or motor neuron diseases such as ALS. While mind-reading technology remains far off on the horizon, charting language organization in the brain brings decoding inner dialogue a step closer to reality, the researchers said. "This discovery paves the way for brain-machine interfaces that can interpret the meaning of what people want to express," Huth said. "Imagine a brain-machine interface that doesn't just figure out what sounds you want to make, but what you want to say." (Scicasts)
After a motorcycle crash paralyzed his legs, Adam Fritz never stopped thinking he would walk again. Those very thoughts, aided by new technology, activated a first-of-its-kind experiment in which Fritz’s brain waves enabled him to walk a 12-foot course inside a UC Irvine research lab. The 29-year-old insurance claims adjuster spent countless hours thinking about walking so that his brain waves could be recorded. His thoughts were then decoded by a computer algorithm, which in turn directed his first step, bypassing his damaged spinal cord to fire the muscles in his legs. “I think and then I walk. It was incredible,” Fritz said. “It gives you that hope for the future.” (The Orange County Register)