It has long been a dream of both scientists and law enforcement officials alike.
Researchers monitoring brain activity can now determine what action a person is planning before he carries it out.
Although it is currently only possible to know what someone is going to do just moments before it happens, the implications of the breakthrough are huge.
Police, for example, would love to know what a criminal is intending to do during a tense armed stand-off.
Lead researcher Jason Gallivan, of the University of Western Ontario, said: ‘This is a considerable step forward in our understanding of how the human brain plans actions.’
Over the course of a one-year study, volunteers had their brain activity scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they performed one of three hand movements – grasping the top of an object, grasping the bottom of the object, or simply reaching out and touching the object.
The scientists found that by using the signals from many brain regions, they could predict, better than chance, which of the actions the volunteer was merely intending to do, seconds later.
Co-author Jody Culham said: ‘Neuro-imaging allows us to look at how action planning unfolds within human brain areas without having to insert electrodes directly into the human brain.
‘This is obviously far less intrusive.’
The new findings could also have important clinical implications.
Mr Gallivan said: ‘Being able to predict a human’s desired movements using brain signals takes us one step closer to using those signals to control prosthetic limbs in movement-impaired patient populations, like those who suffer from spinal cord injuries or locked-in syndrome.’
The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.