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I have a dream… to be able to record my dreams. Apparently, we are a step closer to the day when we can share our latest dreams with the family members in the morning, using a personal dream-recorder device. Researchers from UC Berkeley in California have found a way to reconstruct videos from viewers’ brain activity – a feat that might one day offer a glimpse into our dreams, memories and even fantasies.

“This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery,” said Jack Gallant, professor of psychology. “We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.

Gallant’s worked with study subjects, watching YouTube videos inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine for several hours at a time. The team then used the brain imaging data to develop a computer model that matched features of the videos — like colors, shapes and movements — with patterns of brain activity.

As the video below indicates, the computer model’s predictive ability is still very basic. The scientists say we’re still decades away from being able to use the technology to read the thoughts and dreams of others, as in the great anime Paprika or the more popular Inception.

“Once we had this model built, we could read brain activity for that subject and run it backwards through the model to try to uncover what the viewer saw,” said Gallant.

Subtle changes in blood flow to visual areas of the brain, measured by functional MRI, predicted what was on the screen at the time — whether it was Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau or an airplane. The reconstructed videos are blurry because they layer all the YouTube clips that matched the subject’s brain activity pattern. The result is a haunting, almost dream-like version of the video as seen by the mind’s eye.

The researchers say the technology could one day be used to broadcast imagery — the scenes that play out inside our minds independent from vision.

“If you can decode movies people saw, you might be able to decode things in the brain that are movie-like but have no real-world analog, like dreams,” Gallant said.

The brain activity measured in this study is just a fraction of the activity that lets us see moving images. Other, more complex areas help us interpret the content of those images — distinguish faces from lifeless objects, for example.

“The brain isn’t just one big blob of tissue. It actually consists of dozens, even hundreds of modules, each of which does a different thing,” said Gallant. “We hope to look at more visual modules, and try to build models for every single part of visual system.”

More models, Gallant said, mean better resolution. It also means a ton more data to analyze. “We need really big computers,” Gallant said.

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