Brain Scans Can Now Determine What Music You Listen To

Sunday, 04 February 2018 - 2:48PM

We still have a ways to go, but humankind is starting to get really good at designing mind-reading machines.

The news recently lit up with an announcement that a brain-scanning software can predict friendships between different people, and now a team at the D'Or Institute for Research and Education in Brazil successfully tested out some slightly different tech: a "brain decoding" device which can determine what genre of music you're listening to just by scanning how your brain reacts to it.

And no, the machine couldn't hear the actual music. In a new study published in Scientific Reports, researchers explained how they used a magnetic resonance machine to scan volunteers' brains as they listened to 40 different songs from genres like classical, pop, rock, jazz, etc.

Going off the hypothesis that different music genres were different enough stimuli to make the listener's brain react in unique ways, the machine would then try to identify the "neural fingerprint" each song left on the listener's brain. Things like tonality, dynamics, rhythm and timbre could be predicted solely by the way the brain responds to them - in theory.

According to a press release, the machine passed with flying colors. After it finished the "brain decoding" part of the process, the researchers displayed two different songs, and the machine could guess which song the listener was hearing with an 85% success rate. If picking between two possible choices doesn't impress you, the researchers also tried displaying 10 possible songs (with nine of them being wrong answers), and the machine was correct 74% of the time. 

Sebastian Hoefle, a researcher and PhD student from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, speculated on the future uses for this sort of technology and how it could be an early step toward AI programs creating music based on our brain patterns:

"Machines will be able to translate our musical thoughts into songs."

So headphones may not be enough to hide what music you're listening to, not if someone next to you on the train has the right brain-scanning device. Or it's also possible that you just have the music turned up to loud, and everyone else can hear it.

In which case, you should really turn it down.