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The scientists used a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine -- a real-time brain scanner -- to record the mental activity of a person looking at thousands of random pictures: people, animals, landscapes, objects, the stuff of everyday visual life. With those recordings the researchers built a computational model for predicting the mental patterns elicited by looking at any other photograph. When tested with neurological readouts generated by a different set of pictures, the decoder passed with flying colors, identifying the images seen with unprecedented accuracy.
"No one that I know would ever have guessed our decoder would do this well," study co-author Jack Gallant said.