If You Could Read My Mind . . .Maybe Someday It Could Happen

What if you could read your partner's mind?  Some of us might not like what we find there, but now a new study is saying that "mapping" the brain might help us do it.

What mapping does is to decode the brain, according to researchers as reported at newswise.com. 

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have built a "semantic atlas" that shows in vivid colors and multiple dimensions how the human brain organizes language. The atlas identifies brain areas that respond to words that have similar meanings.

In a brain imaging study, neural activity was recorded while  volunteers listened to stories from the "Moth Radio Hour." The results show that at least one-third of the brain's cerebral cortex, including areas dedicated to high-level cognition, is involved in language processing.

One study found that different people share similar language maps: "The similarity in semantic topography across different subjects is really surprising," says study lead author Alex Huth, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
 
While mind-reading technology remains far off on the horizon, charting how language is organized in the brain brings the decoding of inner dialogue a step closer to reality, the researchers note.

For example, clinicians could track the brain activity of patients who have difficulty communicating and then match that data to semantic language maps to determine what their patients are trying to express. Another potential application is a decoder that translates what you say into another language as you speak.

"To be able to map out semantic representations at this level of detail is a stunning accomplishment," says Kenneth Whang, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Information and Intelligent Systems division. "In addition, they are showing how data-driven computational methods can help us understand the brain at the level of richness and complexity that we associate with human cognitive processes."

The studies pointed out that the maps show that many areas of the human brain represent language that describes people and social relations rather than abstract concepts.

"Our semantic models are good at predicting responses to language in several big swaths of cortex," Huth says. "But we also get the fine-grained information that tells us what kind of information is represented in each brain area. That's why these maps are so exciting and hold so much potential."


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