One of the more intriguing parts of the NOVA ScienceNOW program was the segment about “mind-reading” breakthroughs. That brought me back to the rather exciting news earlier this year that scientists have found a way to listen in on human thoughts. This came only a few months after another group of researchers were able to roughly reconstruct brain activity, and the technology has been developed alongside gaming devices that could allow you to play games with your thoughts as the game controller.
The benefits would be awesome: ease of game play, more direct mental work outs, people who have lost the ability to speak could speak yet again without heavy machines, and lying could very well die out. On the other side of the coin, the consequences are being considered. The ACLU and Wired Magazine looked at the potential legal issues with this tech. Wired Magazine takes a measured approach:
“It’s important not to go overboard at the moment,” said John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist who wasn’t involved in the study. Mind reading isn’t yet possible, he said, “but as soon as it’s relevant for proactical (sic) applications, it’s vital to think about the ethics, and the ethics are quite difficult.”
The ACLU has been more aggressive in trying to catch the legal system up to the fast evolution of technology. In addition to coverage on the legal implications, they’ve held a conference about it wherein there is concern that people’s thoughts could be illegally “hacked” for incriminating purposes, or that private employers could try and use the technology to gain access to our most private thoughts (similar to how some employers have asked new potential candidates to turn over their social media passwords.)
We can see that the technology capable of fully reading your thoughts is still a ways off, but no one can say for sure how far off. Should we have an expectation of privacy when these devices become developed en masse? Will our tendency toward privacy stall progress on this technology?