Mind Reading, Writing

The Singularity-loving transhumanist guys over at h+ magazine have an interesting article on technologies that allow people to interface with machines via thought.

A brain wave study presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society shows that people with electrodes in their brains can “type” (input data into a computer) using just their minds…. The patients were asked to say or imagine words flashed on a screen while their brain activity was recorded. Schalk’s team then used specially designed decoder algorithms to predict the vowels and consonants of the word, using only the pattern of brain activity. They found that both speaking and imagining the word gave roughly the same level of accuracy.

The article emphasizes the active aspects of this technology, what it allows users to do with/to their computers, e.g. writing, tweeting, moving a cursor across the screen. What Surfdaddy Orca — the author of this article; I’m not joking… — doesn’t talk about are the obvious ethical/philosophical/political counterparts to all the active things this technology lets us do or will let us do someday.

I.e., helping quadriplegics communicate is vitally important and wonderful, but to work in the first place, this set of technologies needs first to be able to read minds accurately and reliably. If we can do that (read minds), can we also read them from a distance? If we can read minds from a distance, should I be ordering myself up a tinfoil hat?

That thin and flimsy fiberboard wall separating our outside from our inside may just have gotten a little thinner.