Now playing in a dream near you … digital technology reconstructs dreams


This may be one of those posts that heralds the beginning of a brand new entertainment medium.  Researchers at UC Berkeley have succeeded in the first steps of recording images from dreams and reconstructing them with digital video images.  The impact is both historic and yet, frightening as someday we may be able to create our own entertainment options simply by going to sleep.


The basic concept is that when the subject is asleep (technically referred to as rapid eye movement or “REM” state), their imagination takes flight.  This is when we all experience dreams and nightmares that are so detailed and vivid, you could swear you were living in a real life Inception.  But many never remember their dreams or only recall fragments of them.  So the challenge before neuroscientists at Berkeley was to find a way to archive those dreams by recording them.  And in their first success, thy have been able to develop a system which takes the visual activity interpreted by the human brain in REM state and reconstruct it as a digital video clip.

How was it accomplished?  Subjects spent hours in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging system (MRI) and were exposed to several different movie clips while the MRI recorded blood flow activity through the visual cortex of the brain.  A computer program then analyzed the data and created images using 3 dimensional voxels  or volumetric pixels.   The computer then created a digital video representation by studying video clips from YouTube and harvesting similar images that best represented what the brain was seeing. The cool part is that the more data the computer had access to analyze and interpret, the better it got at it.  Scientists believe that given a large enough sample of video images, a dedicated computer network could recreate any image the brain imagines.   Here’s the result:

The possibilities of such a technology are profound.  Not only could it conceivably be used to learn more about how the brain processes the visual medium, and how the imagination interprets it, but imagine it being used to recreate a crime scene from an eye witness?  Or teaching history by actually seeing what someone lived through? Or perhaps being able to relive memories with loved ones long gone?

But I think it could have a profound impact on the entertainment industry.  How many of us have had dreams where we’re in our favorite movie or interacting with characters we follow?  How many writers suffer from a block in creating that could be freed by a nap and a video recorder?  Could the future of filmmaking be interactive and experiential, rather than a spectator medium?   Each person’s experience would be unique depending on their own collection of emotions, interests, and yes, even demons (you can bet the Porn Industry would love it).

Now, of course, this technology isn’t just in it’s infancy, it’s more like in it’s fetal stage.  But considering Moore’s Law, which states that the power of a processor increases exponentially every 18 months, who knows what this technology will look like in twenty years?   Instead of going to the movies or watching a stream on our Roku Box, we may just lay down in our beds, hit record on a gadget near our beds, and take a nap.  And when we wake up, we get to watch the latest chapter in the lives of our favorite movie character … US.

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.


  1. Jim Robertson says:

    Great article James, next our dreams will lead to Minority Report. Technology is going fast.

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