Reading Your Mind Video –

Here is the video segment from last night’s 60 Minutes segment on the latest neuroimaging work on “mind-reading,” or “thought identification.”  Lesley Stahl talks to CMU researchers Marcel Just and Tom Mitchell and Berstein Center (Berlin) researcher John-Dylan Haynes – pioneers in the field of “mind-reading” using functional neuroimaging and machine-learning pattern classifiers – as well as ethicist Paul Root Wolpe (Emory). The report talks about some of the work that the research groups published in the last year on “thought identification” (tool and dwelling types), intention formation (choosing to add or subtract) as well as potential future uses such as identifying familiarity with a particular place, all using powerful pattern classifiers to interpret complex brain activation patterns.  Wolpe discusses some of the legal and ethical implications, including the “million-dollar question” as to whether brain activation patterns might be considered testimonial evidence, and thus be protected by the 5th amendment, or more akin to other types of biological evidence (such as hair samples, fingerprints, or DNA) that a person can be compelled to submit. The segment also discusses the potential dangers of the persuasive power of brain images, and advises caution and skepticism as the technology develops.

Balancing the probative value against the persuasive power of such information and images as forensic evidence is the topic of a forthcoming paper by CLB fellows Teneille Brown and Emily Murphy. There are still many (unknown) limitations on the technology, particularly for individual, real-world forensic use. However, if Just’s claim of this being ready for prime time within 5 years is correct, a thorough discussion of the legal and ethical implications should be (and, fortunately, seems to be) happening in parallel with technological advances.

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– Emily Murphy