On tumors, MRIs and telepathy: Mary Lou Jepsen on the future of devices that could read images from our brains

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/03/01/on-tumors-mris-and-telepathy.html


“That was when a generous professor sprung for an MRI.”
The problem of the US healthcare system again. An MRI is a standard procedure in other first world countries, there is no need to get someone to “spring” for it. People die because they don’t get basic healthcare.


Ski cap mammograms. We truly are living in the future!

This technology sounds amazing, and much less claustrophobic than traditional MRIs. I hope that the systems aren’t too long in development and implementation, but the subjects of so much science/medical reporting seem to rarely materialize in hospitals and doctors’ offices.


That’s just another reason why I like the healthcare system in Japan. They have something called ningen dock (ningen means human), where you get a whole body MRI along with various tests like EKG, and retina scans. I pay less than $500, and get to consult with specialists and get recommendations to ensure optimum healthcare going forward, and that’s without any insurance!
Pharmaceuticals (which I normally eschew) also cost about a tenth what we pay in the good old USA.


I could not find any evidence that this is real. They haven’t demoed this technology to anyone. Here is the patent.

I want this to be real, if we had cheap Medical imaging of just limbs would change the world overnight.

I will checkout the podcast, but I’ve been around the startup scene for sometime. This smells like a startup making buzz in preparation to get another round of funding.


Hard for me to evaluate.

My decades out of date superficial understanding of holograms was that they depended on lasers, a coherent light source where all the photons were dancing to the same beat.

My pinpick understanding of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (so sad they dropped the scary/cool “nuclear”) is that it uses a OMG strong magnetic field that distorts the atoms’ electron clouds to make it easier to detect changes.

Add a fuckton of modern processing power, sensors, Fourier analysis… I dunno.


They better have lots of hot water & soap when they go poking around in my brain, it’s dirty in there.


An MRI has resolution on the order of a few mm. That means a billion times better would be a few picometers. Atoms have radii of about 100 pm. So, this is claiming to be able to see with resolution at least an order of magnitude smaller than the smaller atoms. That’s… not necessarily impossible, but at least an extremely ambitious claim.


That’s not a “really cool thing” - that’s a “oh shit oh shit / the horror, the horror” thing. If you think the Facebook/big data-enabled corporate/government surveillance state that’s becoming apparent is dystopian, you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you have a cheap device that can actually read someone’s mind, you better believe corporations and the state are going to be using it at every opportunity, even in democratic countries, and in ways that you won’t know about until it’s far too late. Facebook will sell it to you as a cool control device - while surreptitiously harvesting every bit of intimate information they can collect. It won’t just be used in legal trials - the police will stop you (you resemble a suspect in a recent crime, they claim) and why don’t you just pop this thing on - it’ll help determine your innocence, and you can be on your way (no mention of the other information they’re also collecting). Oh, you don’t want to? That’s awfully suspicious, I guess they’ll have to detain you… Are you going through a border? Well then, we have to make sure you aren’t a terrorist…
Even after decades of sci-fi dealing with similar ideas, I don’t think we’ve even begun to consider the kind of dystopias this technology will create.


the facebook mind reading thing is pretty fun but yeah guaranteed to just be another tool for undercover abuse. i mean imagine getting a delay on someone who announces your thoughts out to other people, regardless of who is influencing you at the time, emotionally, verbally, physically, etc.

it’s a really fascist, dictator ish , hey do you REALLY like me if myuh then nyuh go to jyuh

you could make anything out to be remotely endangering and BAM just cheap out on lethal injection with all those replaced school kid gun funds

i mean really who needs to compete with japan anyway… more nuclear power!!!

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This story has been through the Hall of Mirrors which is Technical Journalism, but I think the basis is sound. I was looking at the possibility of making on-chip diffusive tomography around 1990, using a very similar chequerboard design of emitters and detectors. This was not the same as holography because the detectors do not have a phase reference to interfere with. It cannot see very deeply into the subject…

Okay - suppose you have a sink full of soupy washing-up water. You want to find the watch you dropped. You have a small pen-like flashlight. You can stick it on the surface, and it will illuminate a bulb-shaped region under the water. You can see things close to the surface, but away from the surface everything becomes fuzzy. If you move the light about, and ignore the stuff you see on the top, then you can get hints of what lies below. If you can record the exact intensities you see, and do a careful subtraction, you can see a bit further. This will not make the water like glass, and the deeper you go, the sketchier your information gets, but it is better than nothing.

Okay - back to brains - the nice thing about brains is that mist of the interesting stuff is close to the top. We do all our thinking on the outside, and the middle is largely electrically quiet (I am not saying nothing happens, because something probably does). So, something that can look at the surface with high resolution is just what we want. And if the top surface is very clear, we may be able to add a phase reference and do some holography before the reflected phase gets randomised.

Unfortunately, I suspect this may be a skull-cap that is worn under the skull, because I don’t think you can see through that.

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Sounds pretty impossible with photons.


You can.


Good link. Thanks.

Well, damn, I didn’t even think of trying that. This won’t help your resolution any: this says it sees things like MRI. Jamming a lot of integrated light sources and detectors onto a chip will help resolve some small details near the surface a bit. The deeper you go, the more the fog. But it will hugely reduce the bulk and cost, which means the data gets cheaper, and the data-handling techniques will then leap forward.

I suspect, if they really want to get inside your head, they really must get inside your head. But, I can imagine something thin that can move about between the skull and the brain, powered and connected by radio. That could see wonders.

MRIs use magnets, not photons. Which is why they are so useful for finding things wrong inside our brains - the fact that there’s bone in the way doesn’t matter to magnetic fields. But yeah, the billion times the resolution bit sounds extremely unlikely.

ETA: I didn’t read the full writeup, which says this magical new scanning tech will use infrared light instead of magnets. I am very dubious that it will see past bone well enough to be useful, time will tell.

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Sounds a bit like an utrasound like technique but using infrared light. Seems unlikely that it will have the necessary penitration. NMR imaging works very differently as it brings selective regions into resonance by use of a magnetic field gradient. I would image for most diagnostics a 1mm resolution is more than adequate.

Sure, it could be used for telepathy.

But I am reminded of this passage from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash:

It used to be just a plain office with a chair and some instruments on a table. Then they got the new, fancy polygraph system. Now it’s like going in for some kind of high-tech medical scan. The room is completely rebuilt, no vestige of its original function, the window covered over, everything smooth and beige and smelling like a hospital. There’s only one chair, in the middle. Y.T.'s mom goes and sits down in it, puts her arms on the arms of the chair, nestles her fingertips and palms into the little depressions that await. The neoprene fist of the blood-pressure cuff gropes blindly, finds her arm, and seizes it. Meanwhile, the room lights are dimming, the door is closing, she’s all alone. The crown of thorns closes over her head, she feels the pricks of the electrodes through her scalp, senses the cool air flowing down over her shoulders from the superconducting quantum-interference devices that serve as radar into her brain. Somewhere on the other side of the wall, she knows, haifa dozen personnel techs are sitting in a control room, looking at a big-screen blow-up of her pupils.
Then she feels a burning prick in her forearm and knows she’s been injected with something. Which means it’s not a normal polygraph exam. Today she’s in for something special. The burning spreads throughout her body, her heart thumps, eyes water. She’s been shot up with caffeine to make her hyper, make her talkative.
So much for getting any work done today. Sometimes these things go for twelve hours.
“What is your name?” a voice says. It’s an unnaturally calm and liquid voice. Computer generated. That way, everything it says to her is impartial, stripped of emotional content, she has no way to pick up any cues as to how the interrogation is going.
The caffeine, and the other things that they inject her with, screw up her sense of time also.
She hates these things, but it happens to everyone from time to time, and when you go to work for the Feds, you sign on the dotted line and give permission for it. In a way, it’s a mark of pride and honor. Everyone who works for the Feds has their heart in it. Because if they didn’t, it would come out plain as day when it is their turn to sit in this chair.
The questions go on and on. Mostly nonsense questions. “Have you ever been to Scotland? Is white bread more expensive than wheat bread?” This is just to get her settled down, get all systems running smoothly. They throw out all the stuff they get from the first hour of the interrogation, because it’s lost in the noise.
She can feel herself relaxing into it. They say that after a few polygraphs, you learn to relax, the whole thing goes quicker. The chair holds her in place, the caffeine keeps her from getting drowsy, the sensory deprivation clears out her mind.
“What is your daughter’s nickname?”
“How do you refer to your daughter?”
“I call her by her nickname. Y.T. She kind of insists on it.”
“Does Y.T. have a job?”
“Yes. She works as Kourier She works for RadiKS.”
“How much money does Y.T. make as a Kourier?” “I don’t know. A few bucks here and there.”
“How often does she purchase new equipment for her job?”
“I’m not aware. I don’t really keep track of that.”
“Has Y.T. done anything unusual lately?”
“That depends on what you mean.” She knows she’s equivocating. “She’s always doing things that some people might label as unusual.” That doesn’t sound too good, sounds like an endorsement of nonconformity. “I guess what I’m saying is, she’s always doing unusual things.”
“Has Y.T. broken anything in the house recently?”
“Yes.” She gives up. The Feds already know this, her house is bugged and tapped, it’s a wonder it doesn’t short out the electrical grid, all the extra stuff wired into it. “She broke my computer.”
“Did she give an explanation for why she broke the computer?”
“Yes. Sort of. I mean, if nonsense counts as an explanation.”
'What was her explanation?"
“She was afraid–this is so ridiculous-she was afraid I was going to catch a virus from it.”
“Was Y.T. also afraid of catching this virus?”
“No. She said that only programmers could catch it.”
Why are they asking her all of these questions? They have all of this stuff on tape.
“Did you believe Y.T.'s explanation of why she broke the computer?”
That’s it.
That’s what they’re after.
They want to know the only thing they can’t directly tap- what’s going on in her mind. They want to know whether she believes Y.T.'s virus story.
And she knows she’s making a mistake just thinking these thoughts. Because those supercooled SQUIDs around her head are picking it up. They can’t tell what she’s thinking. But they can tell that something’s going on in her brain, that she’s using parts of her brain right now that she didn’t use when they were asking the nonsense questions.
In other words, they can tell that she is analyzing the situation, trying to figure them out. And she wouldn’t be doing that unless she wanted to hide something.
“What is it you want to know?” she says. “Why don’t you just come out and ask me directly? Let’s talk about this face to face. Just sit down together in a room like adults and talk about it.”
She feels another sharp prick in her arm, feels numbness and coldness spreading all across her body over an interval of a couple of seconds as the drug mixes with her bloodstream. It’s getting harder to follow the conversation.
“What is your name?” the voice says.



The last time I read about someone doing gee-whiz things with infrared, it was the Scio.

Needless to say, that ended very, very badly.

Unless I’m gravely mistaken, MRIs use magnets as well as radio waves.

Damn, I wish this was a written transcript instead of a podcast! I don’t have a long commute on which to listen to it.


It would probably be cynical to suggest that providing a transcript might subject the claims to greater scrutiny than they would otherwise receive.