MRI scans of woman's brain

Pictured are nine different MRI scans from a woman's brain. MRI technology has been critical to understanding how the human mind works.

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Conscious of it or not, you feed your brain a constant stream of information to interpret. Whether you're being blasted with color, action and sound while watching a movie or you're stooping to pet a shaggy dog, your reality depends on interpreting bits and pieces of information from your surrounding environment.

But are human and animal brains the only systems able to interpret the world in such a way? Can computers recreate what a person thinks as well?

So far, neuroscience shows that some computers can "read" our minds, so to speak. Although the idea differs from the fictional mind-reading technology that can predict and deter a person's intent to commit a crime in the high-thrill blockbuster "Minority Report," real science is getting closer to playing back what the human mind sees.

Understanding how our brains work, neuron by neuron, surely beats the guesswork employed in the sci-fi world. But to create a computer capable of such complexity, researchers have to know how the organ works at a detailed level.

Today, scientists use multiple tools to design a computer with the potential for interpreting the world in the same way as the brain. For starters, functional MRI (fMRI) machines, or devices that use large magnets to measure blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain, play a big role in most neuroscience studies. Measuring brain activity with electroencephalogram (EEG) machines also gives scientists the opportunity to link the firing neurons to specific activities. But there's also the question of how to interpret the data. Computer engineers have filled the gap by developing highly accurate methods to represent brain activity on a computer screen, even in three-dimensional representations. Statistical models also allow scientists to infer or predict how the brain might react based on previous data sets.

One model uses neuroscience and computers to recreate what humans see in real time. Read on to learn whether mind-reading bots are a thing of the near future or the stuff of fantasy.