What if…and “Reconstructed Visions”

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley are getting a lot of attention for a recent paper published online in the journal Current Biology. The scientists demonstrated how a computer might be able to reconstruct the images a person viewed.

The scientists had volunteers stare at moving objects while in a functional MRI (fMRI) machine for hours at a time. The fMRI measures brain activity, allowing the scientists to teach the computer how different parts of each subject’s brain responded to scenes of moving objects. The volunteers’ brains responded most to basic concepts such as movement and shapes.

The scientists then showed 18 million one-second YouTube clips to the computer, asking it to predict what brain activity the images would provoke. The results are fairly striking, and surprisingly accurate, particularly when the image was of a human body. Scientists noted that the predictions are based on volunteers having actually seen an image, so they are unsure how the computer would respond to images created using the volunteers’ imagination. It would also not convey senses other than sight (making it a more limited version of the device used in the movie Strange Days).

What if the technology became advanced enough that you could record visual images as a person sees them? Assuming some portable rig could be used instead of an fMRI, this might create the ultimate POV shot for movies. Directors could hire stunt personnel based on ability and not have to worry about making them look like the actor. It might also be useful when training athletes, soldiers, and police. Think of it as another type of “game tape.” What if commanders could make decisions based on real-time viewing of what their personnel see? What if you could transmit these videos via HUD, like I described in an earlier post? How would that affect the next raid on a terrorist leader’s compound?

What if you could use the device to record what was seen earlier? This might radically change the way evidence is collected during an investigation. Police officers could plug victims and suspects into the device to check their stories. Perhaps at trial, you wouldn’t have to worry about witness errors so long as you could prove your machine recorded memories accurately (of course, you’d have to clear other evidentiary hurdles in your story).

Then again, depending on how long it took to record the sight, could a person change their memory? There is some evidence that recalling memories changes them. Maybe your society invents a “foolproof” method of evidence collection, only to find much later that it doesn’t work as advertised?

What do you think of this technology? What visions would you like to share with others? Which would you like to keep hidden?