Thursday, January 21, 2016


Ms. M.W. shared this bit of technological news, and I find it so disturbing and rich with "high octane speculative implications" that I have to bring it to your attention; the U.K.'s Daily Mail is reporting a story about a new computer technology that can read the specific brain waves that appear before certain words are even spoken:
Could we soon 'speak' telepathically? Mind-reading computer deciphers words from brainwaves BEFORE they are spoken
Note the statements at the beginning of the article, for they form the basis of my high octane speculations today:
A 'mind-reading' device that can decipher words from brainwaves without them being spoken has been developed by Japanese scientists, raising the prospect of 'telepathic' communication.
Researchers have found the electrical activity in the brain is the same when words are spoken and when they are left unsaid.
By looking for the distinct wave forms produced before speaking, the team was able to identify words such as 'goo', 'scissors' and 'par' when spoken in Japanese.
The scientists behind the technology said they can identify brain waves associated with syllables or letters of the Japanese alphabet, meaning it may be possible to decode entire words and sentences without the need for any of them being physically spoken.
The first thing that intrigues me here is the fact that the article specifies that these patterns occur for certain words or concepts in the Japanese language. One therefore wonders: do the same brainwave patterns occur for the same words in different languages. In other words, if one wired up a speaker of English with the same technology, to the same patterns of brainwaves occur for the word "scissors" in English, as occur for the same word in Japanese? If so, it might be a huge confirmation of the basic Chomskian insight that there is some sort of universal "language competence" or "innate grammar." I suspect, however, that this correspondence and therefore the recognizable brainwave patterns might occur at a more fundamental conceptual and functional level. But in either case, it's a fascinating possibility to entertain.
It's when one contemplates such technological capabilities being used in conjunction with other computer-based technologies that the "transhumanist" possibilities multiply like rabbits. Indeed, the article hints at some of these possibilities, such as the ability to remotely control a robot via brainwave activity, or to "think" a communication and have it transmitted to someone else via whatever means. But imagine such a technology coupled to, say, high frequency trading algorithms: one would only have to "think" a buy or sell order, and it would be placed. Similar, imagine such a technology coupled to a remote brainwave scanning capability, and that in turn, networked with a computer network. It would be the ultimate in surveillance technology, giving its possessors the ability not merely to monitor the deeds, actions, decisions, and words of a target population or individual, but their very thoughts, perhaps even their dreams. Indeed, a little search on the internet will reveal various patents for precisely such scanning technologies.
The bottom line here is that the transhumanist possibilities of downloading and uploading one's "consciousness" are one step closer with the emergence of such technologies, whether we want to admit it or not. But far more importantly, it means that mind manipulation technologies are a reality. And like all technologies, in spite of the best efforts of various oligarchies to control and monopolize them, they eventually do make their way into the public domain. This means we need to have an extended discussion and debate about the ethics, and uses and misuses of such technologies. The law has already been short-circuited by the surveillance state in the wake of 9/11, and this bodes ill for as genuine consideration of these emerging capabilities. But the bottom line remains: if one of our fundamental freedoms in the West is the right to be secure in our homes and property, this to my mind means also the right to be secure, to have and to own, our own thoughts, and that before any technological "scan" of an individual be obtained, consent, or a warrant, is required.

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