Do androids, as sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick asked, really dream of electric sheep? The purpose and meaning of dreams have long been debated. Now scientists are getting closer to deciphering what humans see as they sleep—and how a robot can simulate it.
In 2013 neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani had test subjects take hundreds of brief naps in an MRI machine, repeatedly waking them so they could describe their dreams. Kamitani had already isolated the unique brain patterns for certain objects he’d shown subjects while awake. Their brains were scanned for those patterns as they napped, and a computer programme automatically turned the basic contents of their dreams into short videos. The study found these were 70 percent accurate compared with what subjects remembered of their real dreams.