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Matrix-style instant learning could be one step closer

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December 14, 2011

Researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to help test subjec...

Researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to help test subjects improve at visual tasks

How would you like to have the ability to play the piano downloaded into your brain? You might not end up with the same sense of achievement, but it sure would be a lot quicker and easier than years of lessons and practicing. Well, we're not there yet (and perhaps we never should be), but that sort of scenario is now a little closer to reality, thanks to research conducted at Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan.

The basic idea is this: using a technique known as decoded neurofeedback, or DecNef, people could be trained to alter their brain activity, so that it matched that of someone already possessing a certain skill.

Scientists at the two institutions used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the visual cortex activity pattern of test subjects as they viewed striped circles placed in various orientations. The researchers then used DecNef to train the subjects to change their brain pattern, so that it more closely resembled a predetermined target pattern. This was done by presenting them with an image of a green circle, which got larger the closer they got to achieving the target pattern.

It was found that once subjects had matched that pattern repeatedly, their performance at a given visual task (discriminating between different orientations of the striped circles) improved, and stayed that way for some time. This approach even worked when the subjects weren't aware of what the visual task was that they were being trained for.

While the instant acquisition of complex skills, such as flying a helicopter as seen in The Matrix, might not be possible any time soon, the researchers believe that DecNef might also have therapeutic value, as people with mental disorders could be trained to match the brain activity patterns of healthy individuals.

Source: National Science Foundation

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

What a world this could be..

Renārs Grebežs
15th December, 2011 @ 04:33 am PST

Does this mean that peoples brains behave equally at some level?

Carlos Grados
15th December, 2011 @ 06:10 am PST

Yes this learning would be of benefit. Learning the piano, as their example, wouldn't make you a concert pianist, there is a wide gulf between technique and artistry. It would eliminate the druggery of learning facts allowing people to concentrate on learning to use the knowledge and on creativity.

Max Kennedy
15th December, 2011 @ 06:20 am PST

Carlos - I think the speed at which a synapse fires, and the speed that nerve impulses travel might be common amongst most of us, but we're all wired differently which is what makes us individuals, with our own special skills and knowledge.

The fastest way to "download" knowledge in the manner suggested her, i.e. learning to fly a helicopter, might be to vicariously see it through their eyes, to experience it from another's perspective without needing to know how to do it yourself in the first place - a first person simulation? This might be what this could lead to.

It might still take a long time to learn a complex skill, but the process could be accelerated if one could share the experience of another who already possesses that skill.

PeetEngineer
15th December, 2011 @ 09:09 am PST

Great idea with a potential for eliminating discovery...

As history has proven errors in task learning have led to some great discoveries and inovations.

Sam McRae
15th December, 2011 @ 10:39 am PST

We know this is possible because when McCoy used the alien learning helmet, he was able to transplant Spock's brain back into his body. He even said, "A child could do it!"

Jim Parker
15th December, 2011 @ 01:14 pm PST

What worries me about this kind of teaching is the amount of fascist propaganda (black, red, and green) that is already being taught in schools as fact.

Slowburn
15th December, 2011 @ 03:10 pm PST

The only way this will work is if a sensor system can understand the request for information from your individual brain and then be able to respond using a non-invasive system to stimulate the relevant neurones to allow you to be fed the information.

There is no way to magically encode the information instantly into your brain and there never will be because that would require magic.

You would have to magically and instantly grow and encode neurons.

The only possibility is for a feed of information relating to what you are trying to do is relayed to you.

Foxy1968
15th December, 2011 @ 05:08 pm PST

This is what we know...

José Ángel
17th December, 2011 @ 09:13 am PST

This sounds like a necessity. Just imagine going for any career in demand and being able to fill that position. Pretty awesome..

Gargamoth
18th December, 2011 @ 05:36 pm PST

Interesting. One could train for a new skill very quickly, but it also lets the boss say "I can have you replaced tomorrow."

William H Lanteigne
19th December, 2011 @ 10:03 pm PST
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