Research reconstructs brain activity

Scientists could recreate dreams and memories with new brain imaging technology developed by UC Berkeley researchers.

With the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, activities created by the brain from watching YouTube videos were reconstructed, allowing scientists to view the images that the brain observed. The research was published Sept. 22 in the journal Current Biology.

The MRIs, which measure the blood flow controlled by neural activities, use changes in the blood flow to help interpret what the subject saw on the screen.

The applications of the technology could extend farther than reconstructing YouTube videos, potentially helping scientists to understand parts of the brain that have remained a mystery, including dreams and memories.

“The technology will definitely get there, the question is just when,” said Jack Gallant, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study.

The research focuses on visual activity, which accounts for a third of the brain’s mechanisms.

“One way to think about the brain is to build a dictionary that translates between the world and the parts of the brain,” Gallant said.

In the research, brain activity of each subject was sampled every second from a total of 18 million seconds of random YouTube videos, and each  recorded second was reconstructed separately.

“Each person reconstructs a different image, and you have to work with what you manage to get,” said Yuval Benjamini, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Statistics who helped work on the statistical decoding aspect of the research.

“First you need to build individual dictionaries for individual brains,” Gallant said.

Reconstruction of the images was  attained by taking the hundred YouTube videos that best produced predictive activity closest to the actual activity in the brain. However, the researchers faced a problematic limitation with the data once all of it was collected.

Even though subjects watched 18 million seconds’ worth of videos, the data displayed only a small portion of the brain activity that occurred during the research, Benjamini said.

“It’s a very small subset of the videos that people see and understand,” he said.

To solve the dilemma in data, the lab created models to predict brain activity and compared them to the actual brain activity that the subjects displayed,  Gallant said.

In addition to decoding dreams and memories, this breakthrough also has the potential to improve the lives of people who have degenerative neurological diseases — an internal speech decoder would “allow people with no motor skills to go into the MRI for two hours a day and communicate with their families,” Gallant said.

Two factors are limiting the advancement of the brain imaging technology — the limitations of MRIs and the question of what kind of decoding models are necessary for translating specific brain activity, Gallant said.

In the future, the technology could have many theoretical applications in areas of creativity and artistic production.

“You could build a brain decoder that composes music and you could just think of music and then it would be composed for you,” Gallant said.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • If this stuff excites you…

    Try doing a search on youtube for “electronic harassment”, “targeted individual” and the like.

    Or go check out these interesting facts

    Whats been possible since the 70’s with regards to this:

    And the simplest way to match your brainwaves to what you think, via signals sent to your vocal cords, also in use since the 70’s by your friendly local secret police

    Also, if you care too, please sign a partition about how much you like this cool technology for the US Govt.
    Petition Link:

  • Not_Quite_Correct

    18,000,000 seconds = 208 days

    The 3 subjects – the very same persons who are three of the authors on this paper – did not watch that much YouTube footage.
    Obviously the DailyCal reporter,  Sybil Lewis, didn’t even read the original report.
    (For shame, Sybil!)
    “Reconstruct?” Not from scratch. They need a database of footage, the set of possible footage viewed must be available for analysis. This after extensive training of the setup on their own brain’s response to test footage…

    Not sure which is worse: Gallant’s over-hyped suggestions about reading dreams down the line, this garbage passed off as reporting…
    or the fact that 4 people liked this article without realizing the absurdity of people watching 18,000,000 seconds of spliced and diced YouTube.

    What were they saying in 1960 about their expectations for Artificial Intelligence about 15 years hence? Did it come true? NO.

    • Guest

      I hate to oppose your “not_quite_correct” idea as clearly you have misinterpreted the definition of “reconstruct.” To reconstruct is to arrive at, by a comparison of data or available information. I believe you are mistaking the word to reconstruct with the word to “recreate.”
      And as for “this garbage passed off as reporting…” I believe again you are clearly misinterpreting this hypothesis. At the Max-Plank Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, the significantly renowned researcher John Haynes quotes “It is absolutely amazing, it is really a significant step forward.” This is actually a widely revered subject amongst the modern scientific community. If you have a problem with the research itself, it is probably best to stick to more investigation rather than simply posting your unsupported emotional reactions on an article that is meant to simply raise the question of this study and ultimately frustrate those who hold on to the belief that science does not change. We see this as fact in the past few days with the destruction of Einstein’s theory of relativism.
      Keep an open mind and heart. Reporting is meant to stimulate your mind, to make you recoil at things that make you feel uncomfortable.

      Absolutely great article. To use the term “reconstruct” was brilliant, look at the controversy already received. Great writing, I look forward to reading more of your work.

      • Guest

        Could not have said it better!
        Both the article and the writing were brilliant. Good job Sybil Lewis, keep it up.