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

@AnthonyC was referring to the subject of this thread, which uses photons, not magnets. I’m puzzled as to why he gave your comment a like, unless he regards this as some sort of adversarial exercise where veracity is irrelevant…

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If you could actually detect the estimated trillion neuronal connections in the brain in sufficient detail to identify their changing states over a period of minutes, something this theoretical device (and it’s not-yet-existing highly hypothetical sensors) won’t be able to do any time in the next few decades (at least), you would then have to have the computing power to evaluate those quintillions of data points in real time, and that’s computing power we also won’t have for several, perhaps many, more decades. Intelligent sampling could probably reduce the number of data points once the way the brain functions is understood (it’s not yet understood), but not enough to bring them into the range of our computing power for a substantial amount of time. The total amount of data processing power in the world today is less than a drop in that bucket.

This is seriously bad science “journalism”. It was written by someone who can’t do basic arithmetic on the number of neurons and their connectors in the brain, and then check what amount of data this theoretical device could capture, and what amount of data current technology can process. Very poor, BBS.

To those who are worried about mind-reading machines - don’t. It won’t happen in your lifetime.


@Jorpho @Glaurung @Kimmo - Perturbations in magnetic fields and radio waves and xrays and infrared light etc etc etc are all electromagnetic radiation - simultaneously photons and waves. Arguing about magnets vs photons doesn’t make any sense.

The like was specifically for the last sentence, agreeing RE: the resolution claim. I realize i didn’t have a way to specify that, though, sorry. I’m not a fan of adversarial truth-agnostic discussions.

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Here’s where telepathy comes in. Neurons range from 4 to 100 microns in diameter. This makes them invisible to MRIs, CAT scans, PET scans – pretty much anything other than a scalpel and a microscope. But Mary Lou’s technology could monitor them, if it delivers on its maximum promise. Add some clever machine learning, and the system could closely infer what those neurons are contemplating.

Reads a lot like “based on the twin scientific principles of star maths and wishy thinking” to me.

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(also @Jorpho @Kimmo)

There’s a difference between electromagnetic radiation and magnetic fields. A magnetic field may give off photons (if it varies or moves), but it does not itself consist of photons, nor is the field’s ability to affect matter in its vicinity dependent on photons.

I have now read up on the issue and realize that I was half wrong in my earlier post. Most imaging (Xray, CT) is done with short wavelength EM radiation, which passes through our bodies more or less well, and enable us to take photographs of our insides. Like photographing light passing through a stained glass window to reveal details inside the glass. The problem is that our bones are too dense and are not sufficiently translucent to X rays, so it’s of very limited usefulness for looking inside our heads, looking at spinal cord damage, etc. We are also mostly transparent to radio waves, but radio is useless for taking photographs of our insides because the wavelengths are too long to give decent resolution.

MRI imaging uses strong magnetic fields to line up the hydrogen atoms in the water in our bodies, and then detects the radio waves given off by those atoms as they go back to normal, and uses that data to assemble images. So it is not based in traditional photography at all, and thus is not limited by the resolution limitations of photography, nor is it limited by the lack of transparency of our bones to x rays.

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Okay, but I’m still not clear on how it may or may not be possible to resolve an atom without firing electrons…

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