Can AI read your mind (or your dog’s)?

March 23, 2023 | By Joshua Farrington

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In Tech is our regular feature highlighting what people are talking about in the world of technology — everything from crypto and NFTs to smart cities and cybersecurity.


Artificial intelligence is fast becoming the defining technology of our era, but the rapidly evolving discipline appears to have made a new leap. Researchers at Osaka University in Japan trained an AI system to recreate images from human brain scans. 

As reported in Science, the new study, which at first glance seems to approach the realm of mind reading or extra-sensory perception, involved using a publicly-available AI algorithm called Stable Diffusion.

According to Yu Takagi, a systems neuroscientist who worked on the project, the AI program uses data acquired from various brain regions involved in visual perception, such as the occipital and temporal lobes. Researchers gave the Stable Diffusion algorithm more training by using an online data set from the University of Minnesota that was made up of brain scans from four people who each looked at 10,000 photos.

The results: recognizable pictures of teddy bears, airplanes and clock towers. Scientists developed the study, using functional magnetic resonance scans, which track changes in blood flow to active regions of the brain as they process visual inputs. Those regions include the temporal lobe, which registers information about the content of imagery, and the occipital lobe, which judges layout and perspective. These scans were combined with text prompts to help train the AI in deciphering and recreating the images. 

Shinji Nishimoto, another neuroscientist who worked on the study at Osaka University, told Science the practical application of the new findings could be far-reaching.

The breakthrough can help develop communication tools for people with language difficulties or maybe even record and analyze our dreams. Researchers also suggested that the technique could even allow us to understand how animals perceive the world. We may someday finally know what’s going through the minds of our furry friends. Food. It’s probably food. 

That’s the ticket  

Of late, the news cycle has zeroed in on music fans scrambling for tickets to hot concerts, with fans laboring through long, sometimes fruitless waits inside virtual queues. 

But once you’re lucky enough to score a ticket, there’s tons of innovation at the arena. As reported in Slate, a new wave of virtual ticketing services has been growing in popularity, with iconic venues like Madison Square Garden among the latest to use facial recognition tools to help speed up people coming in for shows and concerts — or keep out guests who aren’t meant to be there. 

Startups like Wicket and Alcatraz AI offer large venues the ability to quickly grant admission to employees or facial ID ticketing for patrons, while software from Trueface allows fans to register with its vending machine systems so they can purchase alcoholic drinks at any connected venue, without the need for showing ID. 

The Slate article raised worthwhile questions about this technology being used improperly, suggesting that transparency and consumer consent will be vital in this brave new world of facial recognition. More convenience is great — but trust is more important. 

Even smaller venues and arenas can get in on the act. Scottish startup Fanbase has recently received a round of funding to help it roll out its mobile ticketing options to small clubs across a variety of sports, reports Scotland’s The Herald, which Fanbase’s CEO says could boost hospitality revenue and save hours per week for staff and volunteers. And even though The Stratchclyde Sirens netball team may not be getting Taylor Swift crowd sizes, this new ticket technology can still help it pull in the punters. 

Gen Z in a paper jam

We tend to think of tech as this relentless march of progress with each generation becoming more attuned to a new world where the barrier between the physical and the virtual realms grows ever thinner. 

That is, until young people are asked to use a printer. 

And sure, while many Gen Zers have helped their parents or co-workers set up their smartphone or turn on the screen (or turn off embarrassing cat filters) during a Zoom call, scores of them are heading into offices for the first time and face an almost impossible task: how to work the dreaded printer.

It doesn’t have to be a source of tech-shaming, as the Washington Post points out. We could all stand to benefit from a little patience and some helpful words of advice from someone who knows what they’re doing — and knows where in the printer the paper goes.

“Age bias affects both sides,” writes Tatum Hunter in her column, “as boomers try not to appear out of touch and Gen Z contends with stereotypes that young people are naturally skilled with all forms of tech. Tech-shaming at work is a problem, but it doesn’t have to be.”

That is, until we can get an AI to read our thoughts and get it to print them out for us.  

Joshua Farrington, contributor