Scientists using MRI to predict intentions, Big Brother seen nodding approvingly

If you'd relegated the Thought Police from that Cliff Notes version of 1984 you read in high school to science fiction, think again, friend: scientists in Germany have just made the first major progress in being able to predict a person's intentions before they act them out. As you might expect, the team from Berlin's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience are using modern technology's best tool for observing brain activity -- Magnetic Resonance Imaging -- to determine subjects' likely course of action when presented with a set of numbers that they may either add or subract. Now before you start freaking out that the cops are about to bust down your door all Minority Report-style for that nasty crime you're planning on committing, bear in mind that this research is still in its infancy, and that the reported success rate of 70% is still closer to chance than rigorous scientific truth. In other words, when researchers presented test subjects with a set of digits, they were only able to interpret the cortical activity correctly seven out of ten times -- the other three times, people zigged (added) when they were expected to zag (subtract). So, what does this all this mean for you paranoid conspiracy theorists out there? Not much -- for now. First of all, it's going to take as long as a decade to codify the cortical patterns associated with each one of the almost infinite variations on human thought. Secondly, MRI machines aren't exactly the most portable or inobtrusive instruments around, meaning that some pretty tech new devices are going to have to be invented if Big Brother really wants to monitor our thoughts covertly. In other words, tuck that tin foil cap back in the drawer and continue about your daily business.