Guess all those sci-fi thrillers in which people could tap into the movies unspooling in other people's heads -- think 'Brainstorm,' 'Dreamscape,' 'Blade Runner,' 'Total Recall,' 'The Cell' and 'Inception' -- weren't all that far-fetched. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have figured out how to reconstruct the movies people see in their minds.
In a new study published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers recount how they showed subjects Hollywood movie trailers, used MRI scanners and computational models to record the brain activity associated with each image, then worked backwards and used the patterns of brain activity to predict and recreate the images that subjects were watching.
Similar experiments have been done before with static images, but this is the first time scientists have succeeded with moving images.
As the video below indicates, the computer model's predictive ability is still very crude. The scientists say we're still decades away from being able to use the technology to read the thoughts and dreams of others, as in movies like 'Inception' or 'Dreamscape.' Still, "this is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery," said Berkeley neuroscientist Jack Gallant, a coauthor of the study, in a statement. "We are opening a window into the movies in our minds."
The technology could also eventually allow us to communicate with people who can't express themselves, like coma patients or stroke victims. It could also make communication easier for people with cerebral palsy. And it could help people with paralysis move about and manipulate objects.
As for less heroic uses: think about what it could mean for Hollywood. Besides story ideas, it could help someone like James Cameron make a movie without spending $300 million, just by thinking it up. And wouldn't you want to tap into the movies playing in David Lynch's subconscious mind?
Plus, you wouldn't have to go to the theater to see the movies; you could just download them into your cerebral cortex.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking: Great, another piece of hardware I'll have to buy; another movie delivery system for Netflix to mess up.
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.
Photo Credit: Lionsgate ('Total Recall')