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TED, Moran Cerf: This scientist can hack your dreams (1)

Moran Cerf: This scientist can hack your dreams (1)

0:11So we spend a 12th of our life dreaming, and most of it is forgotten. What if we could peek inside our brain and see our dreams, maybe even shape them?

0:25I am a neuroscientist, and I study how thinking works inside the brain. But this story starts five years ago,when my work was about to be published broadly, and one slip of a tongue made me take a big turn. It was October 28th, and I woke up because my phone was buzzing. I look at the phone and I see that I have hundreds of missed calls. So I pick up the phone, and on the other line is a producer from the BBC,and in a thick British accent, he asks me about my work and specifically about my team's ability to record people's dreams for the first time in history. 1:04Now, just to be clear, my work had nothing to do with recording people's dreams. 1:09(Laughter)

1:10Apparently, he saw a short movie that I made to accompany the publication that's about to come out,and I'm explaining the results there, but I want to end with something that's like a TED-like uplifting message, so I ask one of my colleagues to explain what the future may hold. And he says, "In the future,we'll be able to decode people's intentions, people's memories, people's emotions -- and maybe even their dreams." And the camera fades out.

1:39So I explained to the producer that we didn't actually do that. 1:42(Laughter)

1:43And he asks me, "But is it possible to record people's dreams?" 1:47And I say, "In theory, it's possible." 1:48"Thank you, bye." 1:50(Laughter)

1:51Five minutes later, the headline on BBC: "Scientist claims dream recording is possible." 1:57(Laughter)

2:00Within minutes, the entire world picks up on this headline, and everyone speaks about my team's ability to record people's dreams. 2:07(Laughter)

2:09It doesn't matter how much I explained to everyone that this was impossible. The story now has a life of its own.

2:15(Laughter)

2:16So I call my dad, who is a journalist, and I ask him, "Dad, how can I kill a story?" And he says, "No problem, just turn off the phone. No one cares about science." 2:26So I turn off the phone --

2:27(Laughter)

2:29(Applause)

2:30and people start emailing me their dreams.

2:32(Laughter)

2:34A famous chef asks me if I can open his brain and extract a recipe he's been dreaming of for a while. 2:40(Laughter)

2:41People ask me to look into their spouse's dreams. Others, who finally have a proof that the CIA is spying on them, want me to go and testify in Congress. Warner Brothers calls me. They want me to be the face of the upcoming DVD release of the movie "Inception," to show the science behind it. 2:59(Laughter)

3:01And a big computer company wanted to option the "dream-recording machine," because my device now has a name, it has specifications, it had Wikipedia pages and fans all over the world. 3:15(Laughter)

3:17To make things worse --

3:19(Laughter)

3:20my students had the idea to go out to a Halloween party to forget about things, so I decided, in state of a depreciative sense of humor, to dress up like Sigmund Freud.

3:31(Laughter)

3:32So now there is not only just a story about me but also a nice visual to go with it, and I am deemed by the media now the modern-day Freud.

3:42This story went on for a few weeks, until, fortunately, Prince William proposed to his girlfriend, which was much more important, and I got to go back to my work.

3:51(Applause)

3:55Now, if you were interested in studying dreams, I would recommend starting first by just looking at people's thoughts when they are awake, and this is what I do. So I am indeed a neuroscientist, but I study the brain in a very non-traditional way, partially inspired by my background. Before I became a neuroscientist, I was a computer hacker. I used to break into banks and government institutes to test their security. And I wanted to use the same techniques that hackers use to look inside black boxes when I wanted to study the brain, looking from the inside out.

4:34Now, neuroscientists study the brain in one of two typical methods. Some of them look at the brain from the outside using imaging techniques like EEG or fMRI. And the problem there is that the signal is very kind of blurry, coarse. So others look at the brain from the inside, where they stick electrodes inside the brain and listen to brain cells speaking their own language. This is very precise, but this obviously can be done only with animals. Now, if you were to peek inside the brain and listen to it speak, what you would see is that it has this electrochemical signal that you can translate to sound, and this sound is the common currency of the brain. It sounds something like this.

5:17(Clicking)

5:21So I wanted to use this in humans, but who would let you do that? Patients who undergo brain surgery.So I partner with neurosurgeons across the globe who employ this unique procedure where they open the skull of patients, they stick electrodes in the brain to find the source of the problem, and finding the source can take days or sometimes weeks, so this gives us a unique opportunity to eavesdrop on the brains of patients while they are awake and behaving and they have their skull open with electrodes inside.

6:02So now that we do that, we want to find what triggers those cells active, what makes them tick. So what we do is we run studies like this one. This is Linda, one of our patients. She is sitting here and watching those clips.

6:16(Video) .. can't even begin to imagine. 6:18(Singing)

6:20Morgan Cerf: What you hear is the sound of one cell in her brain. Try to see if you can figure out what it cares about.

6:30(Clicking)

6:31(Video) ... I have a dream that one day --

6:33(Clicking increases)

6:38The Simpsons.

6:39(Laughter)

6:40This is one cell out of a little network that's bound hand and fist with the concept of The Simpsons in Linda's brain. Now, if you know what The Simpsons are, then you all have similar cells in your brain that came to life right now when you saw this image. Now, those cells are amazing. They're very precise. They don't fire for any cartoon character or any yellow creature. 7:03(Laughter)

7:04They only fire when you think of The Simpsons. They fire when you see any picture of The Simpsons.Even if you hear the sound of The Simpsons, or just read the text, "The Simpsons," these cells will fire. In fact, they fire even if you close your eyes and just imagine The Simpsons in your own head. We can remove the world, and the show still goes on. And we know that because we came back to Linda and asked her now, without saying anything, to just close her eyes and recall from her memory the things she has seen before, and what you see is that as she remembers The Simpsons, the same cell fires. In fact, it fires seconds before she speaks.

7:44(Clicking)

7:46(Video) The Simpsons.

7:48(Laughter)

7:50So we get to see her thoughts coming to her. Now, this is remarkable, because when I speak to you right now, I feel that everything that I have to say comes out in real time. But now you can tell that we're actually a little bit behind. My brain plans the next word. That's the slowest I could ever speak. 8:09(Laughter)

8:11So once we find such cells in her brain, Bart Simpson, mom, dad, the Eiffel Tower, we can essentially know what she's thinking, and then we can do all sorts of fancy stuff that is based on those cells. For example, we can have her think of her mom and just move a spaceship on a computer screen with her thoughts alone. Or, if I can see her thoughts arising, I can actually do things before she's conscious of it.So I can ask her to press a button, but beat her to it and turn the lights on before she gets there. 8:42(Buzz)

8:44(Laughter)

8:49And it doesn't matter how smart she is or how fast she is. I'm always going to be there earlier because I'm inside her head. 8:56(Laughter)

8:59(Laughter)

9:02(Applause)

9:05And finally, if we can actually show your thoughts, we can just project them on a screen in front of your eyes. And this is what we did five years ago. So naturally, when people saw thoughts on a screen, they started imagining the possibility of decoding dreams in the same way. Which we did not do.

9:26(Laughter)

9:28Until two years ago.

9:29(Laughter)

9:30When I got a call from the BBC again, and they asked me about dream recording, I told them, "You know, we've been through it before." And they said, "No, we actually want you to comment on the work of someone that just came out that shows that this can be done." So it turns out, three years after I explained to everyone why this was only theoretically possible, a colleague of mine, Professor Yukiyasu Kamitani from Japan, was inspired by it and did it. And that's when I decided I want to do it myself. So I decided I'm going to dive into dream research in two paths. The researcher in me said I'm going to try to see if we can access them and show them, and the hacker in me said I want to see if we can influence them and change people's behaviors. 10:14Looking into dreams is really interesting, obviously, but it's also very helpful. And the reason is that we don't really know what we're dreaming precisely if we just rely on what you tell us, because the language that you use is unreliable for two reasons. One, they fade away when we wake up. And this is by design:this is our brain's way of making sure we don't confuse them with real memories, so you don't think you actually scored a touchdown and had dinner with Aaron Sorkin. And if you actually remember something,we only describe them in the vocabulary that we have when we're awake. So blind people usually don't describe their dreams visually, because sight isn't in their vocabulary. Or, if anyone here is in their 70s,it's very likely that when you were younger, you described your dreams in black and white. Only when people started seeing movies in color did they think that dreams should be in color too.

11:08So looking into dreams is really interesting. It's allowing us to actually get access to something that you forget. Imagine giving Einstein, Shakespeare or Picasso access to the dreams they forget in the morning.We were very excited about it, and we said, let's try to do it. But how?

11:21And then we had the idea: maybe the same neurons that fire when you're awake survive even when you're sleeping. After all, it's the same brain. It's us, awake or asleep. So my colleague Florian Mormann had the idea to go to the patient and tell them a story that involved the things that we find during the day.So Bart Simpson visits Paris, he goes to a Beatles concert with Al Gore, and so on. Then he asks the patient to memorize the story and go to sleep, and tells them, when you wake up, I'll ask you to tell it again. And what he shows is that when they're sleeping, the brain replays the same story using the same neurons in the same order, sequence and timing, as if you see the story in your mind, and this is remarkable. 11:59Now we don't know if the story that she sees is the same as the one that we decode. Maybe in her mind, Al Gore is holding a balloon and Bart Simpson is blue. But something about the content is preserved, and we can now decode it. And this is the first time someone could show a dream in such precise accuracy in humans.

12:17So we were very excited. But we said, this is still people with open brains, electrodes inside. Can we do it with everyone? And here, our colleagues from Japan show us that the answer is yes. We can zoom out from the brain and actually bring people and try to look at their dreams. Now, when you zoom out, the resolution decreases, so instead of seeing Bart Simpson and Al Gore, you will see maybe that it's a person or an object or some character, but something about the content is preserved.


Moran Cerf: This scientist can hack your dreams (1) Moran Cerf: Este científico puede piratear tus sueños (1) 莫兰瑟夫:这位科学家可以破解你的梦想 (1)

0:11So we spend a 12th of our life dreaming, and most of it is forgotten. What if we could peek inside our brain and see our dreams, maybe even shape them?

0:25I am a neuroscientist, and I study how thinking works inside the brain. But this story starts five years ago,when my work was about to be published broadly, and one slip of a tongue made me take a big turn. It was October 28th, and I woke up because my phone was buzzing. I look at the phone and I see that I have hundreds of missed calls. So I pick up the phone, and on the other line is a producer from the BBC,and in a thick British accent, he asks me about my work and specifically about my team's ability to record people's dreams for the first time in history. 1:04Now, just to be clear, my work had nothing to do with recording people's dreams. 1:09(Laughter)

1:10Apparently, he saw a short movie that I made to accompany the publication that's about to come out,and I'm explaining the results there, but I want to end with something that's like a TED-like uplifting message, so I ask one of my colleagues to explain what the future may hold. And he says, "In the future,we'll be able to decode people's intentions, people's memories, people's emotions -- and maybe even their dreams." And the camera fades out.

1:39So I explained to the producer that we didn't actually do that. 1:42(Laughter)

1:43And he asks me, "But is it possible to record people's dreams?" 1:47And I say, "In theory, it's possible." 1:48"Thank you, bye." 1:50(Laughter)

1:51Five minutes later, the headline on BBC: "Scientist claims dream recording is possible." 1:57(Laughter)

2:00Within minutes, the entire world picks up on this headline, and everyone speaks about my team's ability to record people's dreams. 2:07(Laughter)

2:09It doesn't matter how much I explained to everyone that this was impossible. The story now has a life of its own.

2:15(Laughter)

2:16So I call my dad, who is a journalist, and I ask him, "Dad, how can I kill a story?" And he says, "No problem, just turn off the phone. No one cares about science." 2:26So I turn off the phone --

2:27(Laughter)

2:29(Applause)

2:30and people start emailing me their dreams.

2:32(Laughter)

2:34A famous chef asks me if I can open his brain and extract a recipe he's been dreaming of for a while. 2:40(Laughter)

2:41People ask me to look into their spouse's dreams. Others, who finally have a proof that the CIA is spying on them, want me to go and testify in Congress. Warner Brothers calls me. They want me to be the face of the upcoming DVD release of the movie "Inception," to show the science behind it. 2:59(Laughter)

3:01And a big computer company wanted to option the "dream-recording machine," because my device now has a name, it has specifications, it had Wikipedia pages and fans all over the world. 3:15(Laughter)

3:17To make things worse --

3:19(Laughter)

3:20my students had the idea to go out to a Halloween party to forget about things, so I decided, in state of a depreciative sense of humor, to dress up like Sigmund Freud. 15h20 mes élèves ont eu l'idée de sortir à une fête d'Halloween pour oublier des choses, alors j'ai décidé, en état d'humour dépréciant, de m'habiller comme Sigmund Freud.

3:31(Laughter)

3:32So now there is not only just a story about me but also a nice visual to go with it, and I am deemed by the media now the modern-day Freud.

3:42This story went on for a few weeks, until, fortunately, Prince William proposed to his girlfriend, which was much more important, and I got to go back to my work.

3:51(Applause)

3:55Now, if you were interested in studying dreams, I would recommend starting first by just looking at people's thoughts when they are awake, and this is what I do. So I am indeed a neuroscientist, but I study the brain in a very non-traditional way, partially inspired by my background. Before I became a neuroscientist, I was a computer hacker. I used to break into banks and government institutes to test their security. And I wanted to use the same techniques that hackers use to look inside black boxes when I wanted to study the brain, looking from the inside out.

4:34Now, neuroscientists study the brain in one of two typical methods. Some of them look at the brain from the outside using imaging techniques like EEG or fMRI. And the problem there is that the signal is very kind of blurry, coarse. So others look at the brain from the inside, where they stick electrodes inside the brain and listen to brain cells speaking their own language. This is very precise, but this obviously can be done only with animals. Now, if you were to peek inside the brain and listen to it speak, what you would see is that it has this electrochemical signal that you can translate to sound, and this sound is the common currency of the brain. It sounds something like this.

5:17(Clicking)

5:21So I wanted to use this in humans, but who would let you do that? Patients who undergo brain surgery.So I partner with neurosurgeons across the globe who employ this unique procedure where they open the skull of patients, they stick electrodes in the brain to find the source of the problem, and finding the source can take days or sometimes weeks, so this gives us a unique opportunity to eavesdrop on the brains of patients while they are awake and behaving and they have their skull open with electrodes inside.

6:02So now that we do that, we want to find what triggers those cells active, what makes them tick. So what we do is we run studies like this one. This is Linda, one of our patients. She is sitting here and watching those clips.

6:16(Video) .. can't even begin to imagine. 6:18(Singing)

6:20Morgan Cerf: What you hear is the sound of one cell in her brain. Try to see if you can figure out what it cares about.

6:30(Clicking)

6:31(Video) ... I have a dream that one day --

6:33(Clicking increases)

6:38The Simpsons.

6:39(Laughter)

6:40This is one cell out of a little network that's bound hand and fist with the concept of The Simpsons in Linda's brain. Now, if you know what The Simpsons are, then you all have similar cells in your brain that came to life right now when you saw this image. Now, those cells are amazing. They're very precise. They don't fire for any cartoon character or any yellow creature. Ze schieten niet voor een stripfiguur of een geel wezen. 7:03(Laughter)

7:04They only fire when you think of The Simpsons. They fire when you see any picture of The Simpsons.Even if you hear the sound of The Simpsons, or just read the text, "The Simpsons," these cells will fire. In fact, they fire even if you close your eyes and just imagine The Simpsons in your own head. We can remove the world, and the show still goes on. And we know that because we came back to Linda and asked her now, without saying anything, to just close her eyes and recall from her memory the things she has seen before, and what you see is that as she remembers The Simpsons, the same cell fires. In fact, it fires seconds before she speaks.

7:44(Clicking)

7:46(Video) The Simpsons.

7:48(Laughter)

7:50So we get to see her thoughts coming to her. Now, this is remarkable, because when I speak to you right now, I feel that everything that I have to say comes out in real time. But now you can tell that we're actually a little bit behind. My brain plans the next word. That's the slowest I could ever speak. 8:09(Laughter)

8:11So once we find such cells in her brain, Bart Simpson, mom, dad, the Eiffel Tower, we can essentially know what she's thinking, and then we can do all sorts of fancy stuff that is based on those cells. For example, we can have her think of her mom and just move a spaceship on a computer screen with her thoughts alone. Or, if I can see her thoughts arising, I can actually do things before she's conscious of it.So I can ask her to press a button, but beat her to it and turn the lights on before she gets there. 8:42(Buzz)

8:44(Laughter)

8:49And it doesn't matter how smart she is or how fast she is. I'm always going to be there earlier because I'm inside her head. 8:56(Laughter)

8:59(Laughter)

9:02(Applause)

9:05And finally, if we can actually show your thoughts, we can just project them on a screen in front of your eyes. And this is what we did five years ago. So naturally, when people saw thoughts on a screen, they started imagining the possibility of decoding dreams in the same way. Which we did not do.

9:26(Laughter)

9:28Until two years ago.

9:29(Laughter)

9:30When I got a call from the BBC again, and they asked me about dream recording, I told them, "You know, we've been through it before." And they said, "No, we actually want you to comment on the work of someone that just came out that shows that this can be done." So it turns out, three years after I explained to everyone why this was only theoretically possible, a colleague of mine, Professor Yukiyasu Kamitani from Japan, was inspired by it and did it. And that's when I decided I want to do it myself. So I decided I'm going to dive into dream research in two paths. The researcher in me said I'm going to try to see if we can access them and show them, and the hacker in me said I want to see if we can influence them and change people's behaviors. 10:14Looking into dreams is really interesting, obviously, but it's also very helpful. And the reason is that we don't really know what we're dreaming precisely if we just rely on what you tell us, because the language that you use is unreliable for two reasons. One, they fade away when we wake up. And this is by design:this is our brain's way of making sure we don't confuse them with real memories, so you don't think you actually scored a touchdown and had dinner with Aaron Sorkin. And if you actually remember something,we only describe them in the vocabulary that we have when we're awake. So blind people usually don't describe their dreams visually, because sight isn't in their vocabulary. Or, if anyone here is in their 70s,it's very likely that when you were younger, you described your dreams in black and white. Only when people started seeing movies in color did they think that dreams should be in color too.

11:08So looking into dreams is really interesting. It's allowing us to actually get access to something that you forget. Imagine giving Einstein, Shakespeare or Picasso access to the dreams they forget in the morning.We were very excited about it, and we said, let's try to do it. But how?

11:21And then we had the idea: maybe the same neurons that fire when you're awake survive even when you're sleeping. After all, it's the same brain. It's us, awake or asleep. So my colleague Florian Mormann had the idea to go to the patient and tell them a story that involved the things that we find during the day.So Bart Simpson visits Paris, he goes to a Beatles concert with Al Gore, and so on. Then he asks the patient to memorize the story and go to sleep, and tells them, when you wake up, I'll ask you to tell it again. And what he shows is that when they're sleeping, the brain replays the same story using the same neurons in the same order, sequence and timing, as if you see the story in your mind, and this is remarkable. 11:59Now we don't know if the story that she sees is the same as the one that we decode. Maybe in her mind, Al Gore is holding a balloon and Bart Simpson is blue. But something about the content is preserved, and we can now decode it. And this is the first time someone could show a dream in such precise accuracy in humans.

12:17So we were very excited. But we said, this is still people with open brains, electrodes inside. Can we do it with everyone? And here, our colleagues from Japan show us that the answer is yes. We can zoom out from the brain and actually bring people and try to look at their dreams. Now, when you zoom out, the resolution decreases, so instead of seeing Bart Simpson and Al Gore, you will see maybe that it's a person or an object or some character, but something about the content is preserved.