Mind Reading Might Be Possible Sooner Than You Think 

Researchers in Seattle have been learning how to read the human mind for two years, and are coming closer.

by Sam Blum
Allan Ajifo /Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers at the University of Washington are one step closer to establishing a viable method of mind-reading, according to a new study published in the journal PloS One.

Using a non-invasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) and a format based off the game 20 Questions, researchers at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences claim that they’ve found “the first demonstration that a non-invasive brain-to-brain interface can be used to allow one human to guess what is on the mind of another human” — in real-time.

To reach their findings, researchers placed five pairs of men and women in rooms one mile apart and had them play the roles of “inquirer” and “respondent.” Respondents picked various objects from a list while inquirers were tasked with identifying the objects via the typical yes or no-style queries that make up 20 Questions. The question would then appear on the respondent’s computer screen, along with two flashing lights for the answers “yes” or “no.”

According to the study, when the respondents answered the question, their brain activity was processed by electroencephalography (EEG) brain-wave technology and sent to a coil placed on the back of the inquirer’s head. A yes answer then stimulated a flash of light on the respondent’s computer screen, while a no answer generated nothing.

Or, in the study’s words, researchers “used electroencephalography (EEG) to detect specific patterns of brain activity from one participant (the “respondent”), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver functionally-relevant information to the brain of a second participant (the “inquirer”).

This is all visualized in this diagram:.

This is how mind-reading works. 

Plos One

Apparently, the method works too. The study found that “on average, our five pairs of subjects were able to successfully guess the correct object in 72 percent of the games in the experimental condition using information available from the BBI.” That’s a marked improvement from the control session of the experiment, where only 18 percent of participants accurately guessed the correct objects.

A previous pilot study conducted by the same researchers in 2013 also yielded some pretty positive results too.