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The Science of Mind Reading

When Dan Vergano first started saying “mind reading,” he thought a lot of his neuroscientist friends would object. But many of them say, yes, that is right, it is like that. A study involving MIT undergraduates was able to tell when they were visualizing a face or a place with 85 percent accuracy, for example. That’s pretty good.

Where this will really make a difference is in contacting quadriplegics with the most severe paralysis—”locked in” individuals. We will be able to put people thought to have been in a persistent vegetative state in a [brain] scanner and try to talk to them.

Lie detection raises a host of legal, ethical, and social questions. Only one company is left doing this—NoLieMRI. They are seen as problematic because they don’t publish their methods or results. But there is a lot of interest in the technology from the Defense Department, which wants to move away from the polygraph to other ways to do lie detection.

In court, where you will probably first see mind reading is with disability claims—whether people are really feeling pain for Social Security disability claims for lower back pain. Hundreds of thousands of people are making these claims. Some perhaps aren’t really in pain. We don’t have a good way to tell the difference, but if we did, that would matter.

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