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NASA develops 'mind-reading' system

Fascinating. The headline calls it "mind-reading", but it's actually a way to sense and interpret subvocalization - when you think a word but don't say it, signals go to the nerves in your throat and mouth - the precursor to the muscles actually starting to move.

I am irritated that they call it 'mind-reading', though, because that falls into the Whorfian fallacy that if you're not using words, you're not thinking, which is, well, bullshit.

But it's still darn cool technology. The article talks about it being a way to help mute people to communicate, give remote commands, or 'talk' without being heard. Being the geek that I am, the first thing I thought is that it would be a way to jack into your PDA and make mental notes to yourself.

Unfortunately, with the "ooh! new toy!" voice comes the paranoid one, which sees people entering airports being scanned to see if they're subvocalizing about bombs, political candidates being scanned to see if they're thinking what idiots their constituents are (or if they're truly going with the party line), or to spy on who people are voting for.

Any technology can be abused, of course - just as with any religion or governmental structure. But that's no reason not to develop the technology, if for no other reason than if the ethical researchers pull back, the unethical ones will push forward and then they'll have tools that you don't. Not a good idea.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2004 10:17 am (UTC)
FWIW, re: fears of abuse, I'd think once the technology develops it'd be pretty easy to spoof. One could produce a small white noise box, or perhaps even something that could immitate pre-programmed "thoughts" (wow, THAT guy has had the theme from Flipper stuck in his head for weeks!)

Cold comfort, possibly, but it's potentially there.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 23rd, 2004 07:19 am (UTC)
Re: question for ya
There was a "Crete your own South Park character" site a couple of years ago . . . I'd have no idea where to look for it now. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.

Mar. 19th, 2004 10:57 am (UTC)
On the plus side, this system requires small sensors to be physically attached to the skin, so it's not going to be any more of a threat than polygraph technology already is. Probably less so, since it's not to terribly difficult to control one's subvocalizations for a reasonable amount of time.
Mar. 19th, 2004 11:08 am (UTC)
It is a thought though.. could this be used as a more accurate polygraph?
Or to enhance current polygraph technology?

Tester: "Name the person you killed."
Subject: silence subvocal: "Suzy"...

They would probably have to fine tune it, I'm sure, the questions and answers.. could be a tough polygraph to beat though..?
Mar. 19th, 2004 01:20 pm (UTC)
Now that they can direct, how long before they are able to direct it?? It would at least be nice in terms of using it for personal affirmations.

Just a space age thought.
Mar. 20th, 2004 10:59 am (UTC)
Hm, so now perhaps one can blame a man for his thoughts?

Anyway, in an educational system where most people are taught to subvocalize, this sort of thing terrifies me. I have no desire to read other people's private thoughts, nor do I wish them to be able to read mine.

This idea sure makes a great science fiction novel, though. I'm going to go reread "The Truth Machine". :)
Mar. 21st, 2004 01:38 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, with the "ooh! new toy!" voice comes the paranoid one, which sees people entering airports being scanned to see if they're subvocalizing about bombs...

If this is the case, I am in big trouble. Not that I have a serious interest in doing anything in an airport but I do look at our current 'high level of security' and always think that it would be pretty easy to do another 9/11. You should see some of the stuff they let me carry on a plane.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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