An MRI machine could teach you Kung-Fu, everything else

The idea of jacking yourself into some sort of machine that can teach you anything you want to know without you having to, you know, do anything is total science fiction. Or, it would be, if some researchers hadn't just done it. Teachers, you are now obsolete!

Just a few months ago, we wrote about how UC Berkeley researchers have been able to use functional MRI (fMRI) machines to extract your dreams from inside your brain. A joint American and Japanese team has since discovered that this technique works both ways: it's possible to use an fMRI machine to generate specific patterns inside your brain that can be used to teach you new things.

Here's how it works: you pick a task that requires high performance from your visual cortex, like catching a ball. Then, you go find someone who's a pro at catching a ball, stick them in an fMRI machine, and record what's going on in their brain while they visualize catching a ball. Now you've got your ball-catching program, and you're ready to learn. Next step: put yourself into the fMRI machine, and rig it to induce that pro ball-catching imagery that you recorded earlier in your brain using neurofeedback. You don't even have to be paying attention while this is going on. Your brain, though, becomes familiar with that pattern, which is what learning is: your brain becoming familiar with patterns. Play that pattern back enough, and you will get better at whatever activity the pattern is associated with.

This isn't just conjecture: the researchers involved have shown that this fMRI pattern playback can in fact "cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance... In theory, a type of automated learning is a potential outcome." Yes, that's right: automated learning. It's real science.

Science and NSF, via io9

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