The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Talkers

April 6, 2013

Can computers decode dreams? Researchers take a first step

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LOS ANGELES —

“There’s something in common between what goes on in dreaming and what goes on in perception,” he said.

Although it may sound like science fiction, researchers have made remarkable strides toward reading the brain’s internal logic.

One of Gallant’s computer programs managed to identify 92 percent of images presented to waking subjects using only MRI readouts. Other studies were able to discern a brain’s attempt at motor control, which could lead to help for people who have lost control of their limbs.

Decoding also has made shallow forays into the unconscious mind — predicting changes in perception that were unknown to subjects. One study probed the unconscious origin of racial biases, leading to speculation that it may be possible to detect individual biases. That would have important implications for such fields as law enforcement.

The Japanese researchers offered a similarly tantalizing suggestion: Some of the “errors” in their computerized guesses could represent images lost even to the dreamer. If so, that would mean the machine was able to understand the volunteer’s mind better than the volunteer could.

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