Mind reading through facial expressions

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

face tech
The researchers first showed a bunch of faces to participants and used math to model the responses.

The ability to recognize people’s faces is just one of many incredible feats the human species has evolved to develop. Though it is a complex process, researchers have figured out a way to use brain scans to recognize what face your looking at! In other words, they have invented a way to read minds, and it definitely has a broad range of applications ranging from dream analysis to reading the minds of people in a coma.

Facial recognition may not seem all that incredible, especially because it’s just so easy to see someone you know and remember who they are! But step back and think about how different a single face can appear, like that of your teacher for example. Does he look happy or angry?  Is he rocking a beard, or does he keep his face baby-smooth? Are you looking at him face-to-face, or can you only see his profile? Is the classroom streaming in sunshine or are the lights dimmed for a movie? Did he recently come back from vacation with a tan? All of these subtle factors physically change how a single person looks, yet, we can recognize thousands of faces at a time! For computers designed to identify faces, however, every single one of these characteristics is another problem to overcome and this is why the new study is so remarkable.

In order to create such a program, the researchers first showed volunteers a bunch of different faces – with varying emotions, expressions, and ethnicities – and kept track of what parts of the brain were active during the test. Meanwhile, the scientists ran brain scans to determine how the brain reacted to certain pictures. After making sense of all the data and incorporating mathematical models into a computer program, it was able to read a person’s brain and recreate a face… without seeing the picture for itself! To top it all off, the computer was correct upwards of 70% at a time.

Though the technology is entirely cool standing on its own, the researchers are giddy with different ways to apply it in the world. For example, they can see this computer software program being used to understand how people perceive things differently, or how memories are stored in the brain. On a more serious note, the innovation could be used to interpret dreams, or to possibly speak to the mind of a person in a coma.

Images courtesy of Cowen et. al.