Keeping your thoughts to yourself is getting harder.

Mind-reading machines are now real, prising open yet another Pandora’s box for ethicists. As usual, there are promises of benefit and warnings of grave peril.

The bright side was front and centre at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington DC in November 2017. It was part of a research presentation led by Omid Sani from the University of Southern California.

Sani and his colleagues studied six people with epilepsy who had electrodes inserted into their brains to measure detailed electrical patterns. It is a common technique to help neurosurgeons find where seizures start.

The study asked patients, who can be alert during the procedure, to report their mood during scanning. That allowed the researchers to link the patients’ moods with their brainwave readings. Using sophisticated algorithms, the team claimed to predict patients’ feelings from their brainwaves alone.

That could drive a big shift in the treatment of mental illness, say researchers.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS), where electrodes implanted in the brain give circuits a regular zap, has been successful in Parkinson’s disease. It is also being trialled in depression; but the results, according to a 2017 report in Lancet Psychiatry, are patchy.

Sani and colleagues suggest their discovery could bump up that success rate.

With standard DBS, the patient checks back with the neurologist, sometimes after weeks or months, to tweak the settings as needed. Sani et al’s findings could eliminate that feedback delay. The device would sense mood states as they are changing and automatically zap the brain to bring off-kilter feelings back to baseline.

There is, however, a dark side.

Read the full article in Cosmos magazine here