Learning high-performance tasks with no conscious effort may soon be possible (w/ video)

In the future, a person may be able to watch a computer screen and have his or her brain patterns modified to improve physical or mental performance. Researchers say an innovative learning method that uses decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging could modify brain activities to help people recuperate from an accident or disease, learn a new language or even fly a plane. Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

(Medical Xpress) -- New research published today in the journal Science suggests it may be possible to use brain technology to learn to play a piano, reduce mental stress or hit a curve ball with little or no conscious effort. It's the kind of thing seen in Hollywood's "Matrix" franchise.

Experiments conducted at Boston University (BU) and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, recently demonstrated that through a person's visual cortex, researchers could use decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to induce activity patterns to match a previously known target state and thereby improve performance on visual tasks.

Think of a person watching a computer screen and having his or her brain patterns modified to match those of a high-performing athlete or modified to recuperate from an accident or disease. Though preliminary, researchers say such possibilities may exist in the future.

"Adult early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual ," said lead author and BU neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe of the part of the brain analyzed in the study.

Neuroscientists have found that pictures gradually build up inside a person's brain, appearing first as lines, edges, shapes, colors and motion in early visual areas. The brain then fills in greater detail to make a red ball appear as a red ball, for example.

Researchers studied the early visual areas for their ability to cause improvements in visual performance and learning.

"Some previous research confirmed a correlation between improving visual performance and changes in early visual areas, while other researchers found correlations in higher visual and decision areas," said Watanabe, director of BU's Visual Science Laboratory. "However, none of these studies directly addressed the question of whether early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual learning." Until now.

Boston University post-doctoral fellow Kazuhisa Shibata designed and implemented a method using decoded fMRI neurofeedback to induce a particular activation pattern in targeted early that corresponded to a pattern evoked by a specific visual feature in a brain region of interest. The researchers then tested whether repetitions of the activation pattern caused visual performance improvement on that visual feature.

The result, say researchers, is a novel learning approach sufficient to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance.

What's more, the approached worked even when test subjects were not aware of what they were learning.

"The most surprising thing in this study is that mere inductions of neural activation patterns corresponding to a specific visual feature led to visual performance improvement on the visual feature, without presenting the feature or subjects' awareness of what was to be learned," said Watanabe, who developed the idea for the research project along with Mitsuo Kawato, director of ATR lab and Yuka Sasaki, an assistant in neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"We found that subjects were not aware of what was to be learned while behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed that subjects' visual performance improved specifically for the target orientation, which was used in the neurofeedback training," he said.

The finding brings up an inevitable question. Is hypnosis or a type of automated learning a potential outcome of the research?

"In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome," said Kawato. "However, in this study we confirmed the validity of our method only in visual perceptual learning. So we have to test if the method works in other types of learning in the future. At the same time, we have to be careful so that this method is not used in an unethical way."

At present, the decoded neurofeedback method might be used for various types of learning, including memory, motor and rehabilitation.

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Guy_Underbridge
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 08, 2011
Let the population programming begin!
twasnow
not rated yet Dec 08, 2011
The Government is already doing this... Has no one seen Chuck here???
CHollman82
4.2 / 5 (10) Dec 08, 2011
Those bastards in the future will be able to get a university degree in seconds... and I busted my ass off for 6 years... I hate the future people.
that_guy
5 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2011
Now everyone, please put on your learning helmet.

So...I supposed it's unethical to use this to 'encourage' the hotter students to have crushes on their teacher?
jselin
5 / 5 (12) Dec 08, 2011
"I know Kung Fu."
Callippo
3.7 / 5 (9) Dec 08, 2011
Ideal tool for imprinting of various propaganda...
Nanobanano
3.8 / 5 (10) Dec 08, 2011
The robots of the future will be...

...YOU!

The Sixth Day anyone?

Now imagine if instead of programing the "blanks" to have the original person's memory, they just program YOU.

Boss: "you don't want a raise. You want to get back to work."

You: "Mmmmm...ok. I'm happy here!"

It woould be reeeeeally easy, the naive fool goes in for a "skill upgrade" and the "corporation" slips some nasssssty programming into the update: submission.

"Work hard! BE happy! Be content! You love your boss and your job! You love paying taxes!"

"They Live" on steroids.
Shootist
1.1 / 5 (7) Dec 08, 2011
The robots of the future will be...

...YOU!

The Sixth Day anyone?

Now imagine if instead of programing the "blanks" to have the original person's memory, they just program YOU.

Boss: "you don't want a raise. You want to get back to work."

You: "Mmmmm...ok. I'm happy here!"

It woould be reeeeeally easy, the naive fool goes in for a "skill upgrade" and the "corporation" slips some nasssssty programming into the update: submission.

"Work hard! BE happy! Be content! You love your boss and your job! You love paying taxes!"

"They Live" on steroids.


You really live in a paranoid cacotopia.
FrankHerbert
1.9 / 5 (10) Dec 08, 2011
Lol, coming from someone who uses conspiracy theories to wave away climate change. Ironic.

"The Paranoid Style in American Politics"
http://karws.gso....yle.html
It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him.


In fact you're probably just jealous you couldn't wage his argument against communists/socialists/Lex Luthor before he got the chance to use it.
Telekinetic
4 / 5 (10) Dec 08, 2011
The mind-bending, brainwave altering, propaganda delivery device has been around for decades and everyone has one. It's called television.
that_guy
5 / 5 (6) Dec 08, 2011
Alright guys. Seriously. Both this and hypnosis require a willing participant. It helps you learn and imprint new things faster.

What does it not do? It does not force you to believe other opinions or change your way of thinking.

It is more like the difference between sleeping or fooling around in class and paying attention and taking notes.

If you believe that this will feed propoganda, whatever, you would be too late. There's already something called "public schools." It's just a slower lower tech venue that does the same thing as this device, if you really want to subscribe to extreme conspiracy like that.

"The mind bending, delivery device has been around for decades"[\q]
-That's what she said.

Sorry, couldn't help but add a bad joke.
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2011
I wonder if the narrator of the video would be able to speak perfectly accented English with " Induced " patterns..

bredmond
5 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2011
i need this now. learning chinese words is so boring, i am about to lose control. I dont know what was harder, quitting smoking, or learning all the chinese characters i have had to memorize in the last seven years. Granted i only smoked for three years, but i did smoke fiendishly during that period. My friends parents ashtray were a good source of cheap cigarettes. So yeah, learning chinese characters. If you want to know how hard it is to learn them, just think of me trying to stop going through my friend's parents ashtray looking for discarded cigarettes and imagine it a little more difficult. It is worse than watching paint dry. I cant stand it. All the things i have learned about the learning process and lifestyle just so that i could stay focused is good, but really, i just want it done.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 08, 2011
"Think of a person watching a computer screen and having his or her brain patterns modified to match those of a high-performing athlete or modified to recuperate from an accident or disease."

-Or an assassin of a high-ranking public official. This sounds like 50 year old sirhan sirhan MKULTRA stuff to me. OK I'll try it.
hard2grep
1.7 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2011
I wonder if the activity involved in a psychotic episode can be replicated?
TS1
5 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2011
I guess this could perhaps even be used on toddlers and younger kids to teach them to speak and walk at an earlier age??

In any case advertisers (and spammers) would likely want to use the technology for their own gain.
nanotech_republika_pl
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2011
I think this experiment is really very far from learning complex tasks like Kung Fu or foreign language. It may be helpful learning to recognize a line pattern though.

Similar to adding, for example, a sense of fear in my dreams, but not adding a complex pattern like inception of me breaking up the business emporium.
Skepticus
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2011
Great! With this http://www.physor...rts.html ver 10.0 you can totally erase someone life history- or even the world's history and/or the present itself, present him with an edited version, and he will never question it!
Tausch
1 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2011
First, there was Nature itself as input. All your senses benefited from the mutual exchange. That wasn't enough.

Visually, someone figured scribbles carried the potential to have more meaning - like the tracks of an hunted animal.

Of course sound was just as abundant as were the visuals. So eventually the voice box extended beyond crying and the voice was discovery to have a potential to carry more meaning than a hunger signal.

Nature's input/output mutual feedback (for the senses) is impressive.
fMRI's induced patterns fall short of this. Actually this:
http://www.physor...ail.html
is where all 'blueprints' come true. Unfortunately signaling a cell to become a cell, the cell has already become - (differentiation completed)is a repeated message ignored once the differentiation stage is superseded.

The visual cortex first signals (from eyes ready or not) is darkness. What is the signal representation in the visual cortex for black?
Sinister1811
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2011
Limitless, anyone? Forget about taking a pill to learn things. Just switch on your neural augmentation. Kind of like Deus Ex, when you think about it. With this, you could learn every language, remember Pi up to 50 digits, remember every article you read on Physorg, learn about 10 different types of martial arts. Just awesome.
thewhitebear
5 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
egads. and if they're just releasing this information to the civilian population... all science fiction comes true eventually.
Simonsez
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2011
Am I the only one who read this article and thought it would make an excellent way to teach an artificial intelligence?
Nanobanano
1.9 / 5 (8) Dec 09, 2011
Limitless, anyone? Forget about taking a pill to learn things. Just switch on your neural augmentation. Kind of like Deus Ex, when you think about it. With this, you could learn every language, remember Pi up to 50 digits, remember every article you read on Physorg, learn about 10 different types of martial arts. Just awesome.


Not much benefit in knowing more than 3 or 4 basic martial arts disciplines: Maybe two grapling schools and 2 striking schools: Jujitsu, Judo, Taekwondo, Ishinryu.

Only so many ways someone can tell you to throat jab, eye gouge, groin kick, neck break, or arm bar before it's just repetitive.

50 digits of pi is useless.

And when you can remember most things you read, then you have to deal with idiots like Ghost of Otto accusing you of not knowing what you're talking about, just because THEY can't remember it...

Go figure.

Knowing everything will probably make life more miserable, because then you know how big an idiot everyone really is...
Tausch
3 / 5 (8) Dec 09, 2011
AI doesn't have all those innate 'learning abilities' humans do.
Humans rely on those poorly understood abilities. If we understood those learning abilities, then learning is effortless like a child's first step or language. All taking place without teaching and teachers.
I can mimic the innate learning abilities of humans. I have to know how those abilities work to teach anything. I rely on those abilities already subjected to experience before I am even to allowed to consider teaching. AI has a 'clean slate' start. Life forms don't have that disadvantage.
bredmond
not rated yet Dec 11, 2011
By the way, if any of you are science fiction fans, and I know you are, you might enjoy the movie: The Forbidden Planet. There is a device in there where they use "quantum mechanics" to increase memory or intellegence or knowledge or something. I dont remember exactly what, but im sure you will enjoy it. It is a classic.
Neurons_At_Work
1 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2011
Maybe Mythbusters' Adam Savage has had it right all along. His most famous quote--"I reject your reality and substitute my own!"