May 31, 2008

Computer trained to read mind images of words


Telephone interview with Tom Mitchell of the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh

Thu May 29, 2008 8:20pm EDT
By Maggie Fox, Reuters Health and Science Editor
Editing by Eric Walsh

"The question we are trying to get at is one people have been thinking about for centuries, which is: How does the brain organize knowledge?"

"It is only in the last 10 or 15 years that we have this way that we can study this question."

"We gave instructions to people where we would tell them, 'We are going to show you words and we would like you, when you see this word, to think about its properties,'"

"If I show you the brain images for two words, the main thing you notice is that they look pretty much alike. If you look at them for a while you might see subtle differences,"

"We have the program calculate the mean brain activity over all of the words that somebody has looked at. That gives us the average when somebody thinks about a word, and then we subtract that average out from all those images,"

"After we train on the other 58 words, we can say 'Here are two new words you have not seen, celery and airplane.'"

"If I say 'rabbit' or 'fast rabbit' or 'cuddly rabbit', those are very different ideas,"

"I want to basically use that as a kind of scaffolding for studying language processing in the brain."

"It can be hard to focus. Somewhere in the middle of that their stomach growls. And all of sudden they think, 'I'm hungry -- oops.' It's not a controllable experiment."

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