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Mind reading used to be a vain pursuit, the stuff of soothsayers and snake oil salesmen. But the latest advancements in neurotechnology seem to be making even this a reality.

In recent work at the University of California (Berkeley) researchers created a model that enabled a computer to reconstruct "mind movies" after scanning the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). For example, when a test subject viewed a human face on a television screen the computer read the subject's brain activity and constructed an image similar in outline to the image on the screen.

In a study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, researchers using electro-encephalography (EEG) reported that 19% of their test subjects ? patients thought to be in a vegetative state ? may actually have some degree of consciousness. Another similar study using fMRI technology suggests that one patient could even communicate with the researchers, who scanned the patient's brain patterns for responses to questions. Interpreting the meaning of such brain activity is a tricky business, but these studies suggest that the age of mind reading may be on the horizon.

The private sector would be remiss not to cash in on the profit potential. Neuromarketing firm Neurofocus promises access into the deepest thoughts of consumers, and Cephos Corp. provides brain-based lie detection services to anybody whose "word, reputation or freedom is in dispute". Not to be outdone, No Lie MRI claims to offer "the first and only direct measure of truth verification and lie detection in human history".

Researchers are also actively seeking to discover the neural correlates of pedophilic arousal, psychopathy and other behavioural traits.

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