In a key breakthrough, scientists have developed a "psychic" computer which can read people's minds by scanning their brain activity and reproducing images of what they are seeing or even remembering.
An international team has been able to convert into crude video footage the brain activity stimulated by what a person is watching or recalling -- the research shows that it is possible to "decode" signals in the brain by moving scenes.
According to the scientists, the breakthrough raises the prospect of significant benefits, such as allowing people who are unable to speak to communicate via visualisation of their thoughts; recording people's dreams; or allowing police to identify criminals by recalling the memories of a witness.
For their research, the scientists used the functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to scan the brains of two patients as they watched videos.
Subsequently, the computer, which was specially programmed, was used to search for links between configuration of shapes, colours and movements in the videos, and patterns of activity in the patients' visual cortex.
It was later fed more than 200 days' worth of YouTube Internet clips and asked to predict which areas of the brain the clips would stimulate if people were watching them.
Finally, the software was used to monitor the two patients' brains as they watched a new film and to reproduce what they were seeing based on their neural activity alone, The Sunday Times reported.
Remarkably, the so-called psychic computer was able to display continuous footage of the films they were watching -- albeit with blurred images.
"Some scenes decode better than others. We can decode talking heads really well. But a camera panning quickly across a scene confuses the algorithm. You can use a device like this to do some pretty cool things.
"At the moment when you see something and want to describe it to someone you have to use words or draw it and it doesn't work very well. You could use this technology to transmit the image to someone.
"It might be useful for artists or to allow you to recover an eyewitness' memory of a crime," team leader Jack Gallant of California University said.