Deccan Chronicle

Spooky mind reading technology

Deccan Chronicle| Jayanth Murali

Published on: May 19, 2019 | Updated on: May 19, 2019

Technology to read people's minds may appear like something right out of science fiction, but it's something which is becoming a reality.

China has enforced this technology on an unparalleled scale in factories, public transport, state-owned companies, and the military to increase the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and to maintain social stability.

China has enforced this technology on an unparalleled scale in factories, public transport, state-owned companies, and the military to increase the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and to maintain social stability.

George Orwell's dystopian novel, "1984," written in 1949, describes an eerie future where the 'Thought Police' of the superstate Oceania, detect and punish subjects for 'thoughtcrimes'  which are thoughts unapproved by the state. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we are today staring at the possibility of creepy 'Thought Police' coming true, chiefly because of technologies which are bobbing up, to read people's minds.

A scroungy form of George Orwell's 'Thought Police' has already showed up in "emotional surveillance technology" that is now being embraced in China where the thoughts of employees in the workplace are not private. This surveillance requires workers to wear hats or safety helmets fitted with wireless sensors.

These sensors keep tabs on the emotions and other mental activities of the workers and streams their brain waves to the computers where AI detects emotions that employees consider undesirable. When the system detects abnormalities in the state of mind of the worker, the employees may ask the worker to take a day off or they may assign him or her to a less important task. China has enforced this technology on an unparalleled scale in factories, public transport, state-owned companies, and the military to increase the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and to maintain social stability.

Technology to read people's minds may appear like something right out of science fiction, but it's something which is becoming a reality. Recent advances in non-invasively identifying thoughts in the human brain have been helped along by Brain-Computer interface (BCI) based new neuroimaging technology, such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology, electroencephalogram (EEG) and machine learning.The future Orwellian scenario of having to be careful of what we think for fear of being punished for so-called thoughtcrimes could come true, if we do not establish a right to protect people from having their mental information stolen, abused or hacked.

Recent advances in electroencephalography, or EEG, have led to devices like Emotiv's neuroheadset, a $300 toy that taps into a person's brain waves and lets  an individual play a computer game with his mind. Which is cool? In 2012, researchers from Oxford University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Geneva showed that it was possible to carry out an attack against wearers of such EEG headsets to steal sensitive personal information. They flashed students wearing the headsets images of things like ATM PIN pads, debit cards, and calendars. Underneath the images were questions such as what is your PIN  and when were you born? The results were powerful: by reading the brain waves emanating from these $300 headsets, researchers could guess a subject's PIN number with 30 percent accuracy and their month of birth with 60 percent accuracy.

Imagine a scenario, in the near future where one is browsing the internet using the power of one's thoughts, while doing so the hackers could use spyware on the browsers mind through the internet to gather personal information from the brain waves. The hackers could gather people's likes and dislikes, political affiliation, sex, and ATM PIN. The idea frankly is not far-fetched. It's not just the hacker who could take advantage of this technology, police could misuse it, or governments could charge people with thought crime for any-anti-government thoughts or for just thinking about illegal activities. China has already marched in this direction by implementing their "social credit score" system. Which is not far from a full-blown Orwellian state.

If governments can read one's mind for security purposes, would that not violate an individual's rights? AI today can interpret our brainwaves as we conduct ourselves in, for example, an airport. It's possible to scan people's minds for potentially menacing mental images arising from their brains like bombs or firearms and alert security. The Department of Homeland Security has been testing its "Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST)" program which is something akin to a mind reading pre-crime detector to 'sense' and spot people with a hostile intent such as a terrorist act.FAST Technology deploys concealed sensors that will right off know everything about a person even from 164 feet away by detecting the physiological peculiarities of a person like the increased heartbeat, brain waves, and eye movements that one associates  with a sinister intent.

Pentagons science division Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to develop a technology called "Silent Talk" that will help the soldiers put aside wireless radios, Walkie-talkies, combat PDA's enabling them to communicate by reading each other's minds. The goal is to "allow user-to-user communication on the battlefield without the use of vocalised speech through analysis of neural signals." They are also planning to devise mind-reading binoculars that alert soldiers faster than the conscious mind can process them.

A new headset developed by a graduate student Arnav Kapur at MIT, USA, reads the small muscle movements in the face that occur when the wearer thinks about speaking, and then uses "artificial intelligence algorithms to perform real time thought to text conversion. With about 15 minutes of customisation and training, researchers could achieve a transcription accuracy of 92 percent. This technology is amazing ; It only reads the nerve signals sent from brain to the face.

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have developed a mind reading device that, besides turning thoughts into text, can also detect things a person hears. This is done by placing electrodes to monitor the auditory cortex and decoding the data with algorithms. Carnegie Mellon University has developed methods of not only reading complex thoughts from brain scans, but it can also predict the next sentence in the thought process.
 Facebook is also working on a mind reading project to enable users to send messages using thoughts alone. Microsoft has patents that use brain activity to change the state of the computer or its applications. For instance, the system will automatically turn down the volume of the music system when the mental activity of the person shows that the listener is not comfortable with the loudness.

Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine have trained monkeys to move a robotic arm to feed themselves marshmallows and fruits by using signals from its brain while their arms are tied-up. The University of Toronto Scarborough could recreate faces shown to the subjects based on their brain activity. The possibility of recreating faces from memory alone has tremendous applications in the police investigation. Japanese researchers at the University of Kyoto and researchers at Purdue University, USA are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans plus A.I. to recreate pictures based on blood flow to the brain.

A start-up called Neurable has developed a Virtual-Reality game called "Awakening" in which a player can pick up objects and hurl them with his thoughts. HTC's Vive X accelerator program, called Looxid Labs, is developing a mobile VR headset with built-in emotion-detection technology. Motor car manufacturer Nissan has unveiled an IMx KURO concept car, complete with an EEG headset, at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show which reads the brain waves of the driver and performs functions depending on the thoughts of the driver. For example,  the moment the car detects that the driver intends to apply the brakes, the car automatically brakes even before the driver steps on the brakes.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, USA have been able to form, erase and reactivate memories in rats. Researchers are working on extending the same method to humans. This discovery could be enormous for police officers and military personnel who suffer from PTSD. Scientists have also developed a BCI drowsiness detection system which uses algorithms to detect the drowsiness and alerts the driver of an automobile by processing the rhythmic values of theta and alpha of EEG signals. Two researchers at Washington have showed not only telepathic communication but could also send the motor-muscle stimulation over internet to cause another person to move his body with a mere thought.

 We can also use brain scanning technology to determine if patients in a comatose or vegetative stage are conscious despite their inability to communicate verbally or via motor actions.  An expert puts questions and interprets a brain scan image as a yes or no response based on the activation of the areas of the brain. This would allow the police to record the dying declaration of a person who has slipped into a coma, or allow police to question conscious vegetative state patients, or allow vegetative state patients to testify and also help assess their conscious healthcare wishes. This technology can be of great help in police and healthcare decision making.

AI assisted mind reading may make our lives practical, productivity-enhancing and actually enjoyable.  Mind reading applications could make everything happen correctly and automatically. Lights and sounds may turn up or down based on mental preference at a particular moment. Criminal law could be one potential area of application. The Evidence Act, however, does not permit self incrimination. But not performing brain scans on suspects also prevents wrongly accused from proving their innocence. I have previously dealt with Brain Fingerprinting technology on two occasions here, I am therefore skipping it now.

On the downside, criminals can misuse mind reading technology. Experts at the University of Washington have revealed how hackers could insert images into dodgy apps and read people's minds using brain-computer interfaces. It will also be possible for hackers to attack Neuroprosthetics like other medical implants such as pacemakers and diabetic pumps by subverting communication and control protocols. An attacker, for instance, would be able to turn off electrodes of deep brain stabiliser in a Parkinson's patient causing violent tremors and seizures. Using their minds, people are today able to move objects on IoT, control a drone, and play a video game. If it is so, what will stop hackers from remotely manipulating someone's mind?

There're many possibilities for such a technology. A "cloud-based brain-to-brain interface server" could allow the direct transmission of data around the world via the Internet. Such a global brain-net besides the problems of privacy, security and  neurorights, could also lend deeper insights into how individual consciousnesses might transcend the biological confines of the human skull to to work collectively. If then, can this technology help humanity realise the 'Oneness' which the scriptures have always been exhorting us? Will it help humankind know that individual consciousnesses are all part of this one universal consciousness which people call The Universal Force?  As far as India is concerned, mind-reading is an ancient technology. One can find mind reading (cetopariyañna) dealt with in the third chapter of the "Patanjali Yoga sutras". Ancient Indians cultivated this superpower through yogic practice.

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