New Advances in Mind-Reading, and What Might Be in It for Us

Geek Culture

If you’re a geek like me, you probably see two sides to a lot of new advances in science, and particularly in mind-reading technology: on the one hand, it’s like science-fiction stories come true; but on the other hand, it’s like science-fiction stories come true. If you’ve read a lot of science-fiction, you’ll get my point: there’s often some new and nifty technology, but the story is often about how it goes awry. So I know I’m not alone in my mixed feelings about the latest story about a scientific breakthrough in mind-reading.

Though I suggest you read the whole story for yourself, the most significant part of it is that scientists in the U.S. and Japan have figured out ways of determining what image a person is seeing just from analyzing his brain activity. The technology is limited at the moment to black-and-white images, and to extremely low resolution ones at that. But the implications are staggering: Eventually, technology may be able to view dreams as they occur, or record memories.

This is obviously very cool and very troubling, because the potential for misuse is obvious. It would be so awesome to be able to record your dreams so you could remember them and perhaps analyze them, and to record your memories visually for posterity. But how do you prevent the scans from finding and recording things you’d rather keep private? And I can easily see something like this technology replacing the polygraph as the new standard for government security clearances.

But there is one really cool potential use for this technology, sometime in the future, that occurred to me, no doubt because I’m a parent. How awesome would it be to be able to scan your baby’s brain (safely, of course) to find out why he’s crying his little head off? Imagine it: "The baby’s crying. Quick, get him into the scanner … OK, it shows a picture of a breast; he’s hungry!" There would be no more trying everything you can think of to make the crying stop. I don’t have a baby at home anymore, but I know that when I did there were nights I would’ve gladly traded a few individual freedoms for such a device.

What do you think? (No pun intended.)

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