Intel demos software that reads your mind

The software uses MRI brain scans to decipher which words you're mostly likely thinking about. In highly controlled situations, it achieves perfect scores.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

You may one day in the not-extremely-distant future control your computer and other devices just by thinking.

Intel's research shows that thinking about different words produces different activity in the brain.
Thinking about different words produces different activity in the brain. Intel

At Intel's Tech Heaven event in Manhattan on Wednesday, the company demonstrated software under development that can tell--under very controlled circumstances--what a person is thinking by reading brain waves. The chipmaker has been working with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh to develop software and an interface to convert brain waves scanned from MRIs into something recognizable by computers.

Though still in the early research stages, the technology looks promising to researchers. In a preliminary test conducted by Intel Labs senior researcher Dean Pomerleau, the system scanned a person's brain to record its activity while showing the person certain words, specifically concrete objects like "barn" and "house" and "screwdriver."

The scans revealed that some words produced a very similar pattern of brain activity, while other words generated quite different levels of activity. The software uses those similar and dissimilar patterns to decipher what the brain is thinking.

After the computer analyzed the brain patterns produced by different words, the testers asked the subject to think about one of two new words. The challenge for the computer was then to determine which word the person was thinking based on the previous brain scan. In the test, the computer scored 10 out of 10 for a perfect grade.

The MRI and scanning equipment used in the initial research is as large as a traditional MRI machine. But researchers around the world are striving to miniaturize the technology, and Pomerleau is hopeful the equipment could one day be small enough to be built into a hat.

If and when the system becomes more consumer friendly, Pomerleau believes that people could use it to command computers or robots through one's thoughts.

Designed to showcase products currently under development, the Tech Heaven event also pulled the curtain on a number of other potential new technologies from Intel (PDF).

Intel's Light Peak is a thin, flexible, optical fiber cable--about the width of a human hair--that could potentially transfer data at up to 10 billion bits per second. As an example, Light Peak could download the entire contents of the Library of Congress--10 terabytes of data--in just 17 minutes.

Intel's Understand Me project could turn your smartphone into a true personal assistant and even a mobile life coach. By detecting and analyzing your location, your social interactions, and other aspects of your day-to-day life, your phone could offer recommendations to help you improve certain behaviors and patterns.

Finally, Intel's Dispute Finder can monitor the pages you read on the Internet and alert you to any content that may be dubious or disputed by another source, helping you better determine which information you can trust and which you can't.