On the surface, it sounds like an incredibly cool idea: A brain-computer interface that allows you to type by merely thinking of words. Imagine how much time could potentially be saved! It would be the ultimate in human-machine interface, requiring little more than a high-tech headset that you wear, MIT Technology Review explains that Facebook has been working on a mind-reading prototype since 2017:
“The research is important because it could help show whether a wearable brain-control device is feasible and because it is an early example of a giant tech company being involved in getting hold of data directly from people’s minds.”
The social media giant makes it all sound so simple and alluring, with Facebook noting in a blog post:
“Imagine a world where all the knowledge, fun, and utility of today’s smartphones were instantly accessible and completely hands-free. Where you could connect with others in a meaningful way, regardless of external distractions, geographic constraints, and even physical disabilities and limitations.”
But what exactly are the ethics of such a quantum leap in technology? Who would “own” your thoughts once they’ve been run through a piece of technology or software that was created by a private corporation? If you write the Great American Novel using a translator headset, do you get the royalties, or do you have to share them with the XYZ Corporation?
Neuralink, which is owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk, even wants to go a step further and drill two holes in your skull so electrodes can be implanted directly into your brain.
Nita Farahany, a professor at Duke University who specializes in neuro-ethics, notes:
“To me the brain is the one safe place for freedom of thought, of fantasies, and for dissent. We’re getting close to crossing the final frontier of privacy in the absence of any protections whatsoever.”
In other words, does mind-reading lead to mind control?
Once our thoughts are no longer private, is all privacy gone?
As you’d expect, Facebook and Neuralink promise they’d be able to keep your deepest thoughts private but does anyone believe that? Let’s not forget that Facebook got busted for sharing the data of millions with companies that targeted campaign ads to users during the 2016 election. That has led Marcello Ienca, a brain-interface researcher at ETH in Zurich to comment:
“Brain data is information-rich and privacy sensitive, it’s a reasonable concern. Privacy policies implemented at Facebook are clearly insufficient.”
Also, a brain reader is just a step away from other possible uses of such a device:
“While a brain reader could be a convenient way to control devices, it would also mean Facebook would be hearing brain signals that could, in theory, give it much more information, like how people are reacting to posts and updates.”
For now, we’re stuck with our keyboards and cell phone screens. But maybe that’s for the best.
Here’s more on how the tech giants are betting big on mind-reading:
Featured Image Via YouTube Screenshot