Telepathy, or the various related abilities to “read” other’s minds or communicate using means by means other than the usual face holes, is at the heart of a significant amount of both science fiction and paranormal research. Aside from allowing one to get extremely creeped out in public, the power to read or hear others’ thoughts would be of critical strategic advantage in politics, law enforcement, and the military. For that reason, the CIA and other clandestine organizations have experimented with various forms of telepathy over the years - to mostly no result. However, recent leaps in brain scanning technology, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interfacing have put humankind on the verge of developing real telepathy like never before. Will privacy become a thing of the past?
For years, many of the biggest names in technology including the no-longer-doubtfully-evil Facebook have been researching methods of technological telepathy. Some of the more terrifying iterations involve powerful artificial intelligence networks which can read your brain activity and recreate any visual information your brain is processing. To make things even more dystopian, MIT researchers have recently unveiled technology which can ‘hear’ and decode individuals’ inner speech. What will this spell for the future of interrogation, court proceedings? or law enforcement?
The device, called AlterEgo, consists of a goofy, obtrusive headset which detects and interprets minute electrical signals sent from the brain to the facial and vocal muscles. These signals are sent even when we are only ‘speaking’ inside our heads, meaning this system can essentially read people’s minds in real time. Through interpreting these signals, the device can essentially "hear" users' inner thoughts. The device’s creators claim that they envision this system used to make technology use less obtrusive:
If I want to look something up that’s relevant to a conversation I’m having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I’m with to the phone itself. So, my students and I have for a very long time been experimenting with new form factors and new types of experience that enable people to still benefit from all the wonderful knowledge and services that these devices give us, but do it in a way that lets them remain in the present.
While hands-and-face-free Googling would be a nice touch to our already assuredly dystopian screen-worshipping present, it’s easy to see how this same system could be employed to extract information from unwilling subjects. Couple that with the fact that similar advances are being made in the efforts to read and record dreams, and it’s clear that the mind is no longer a sanctuary safe from the outside world.
The abuses and intrusions of ‘Big Tech’ and ‘Big Data’ have already eroded notions of privacy in the digital age. What will it mean for individuals and societies when even our thoughts can be made public? Will we unite in a singular, telepathically-linked collective human consciousness, bringing an end to war and interpersonal conflict? Or like every single other technological development, will this tech-telepathy be used to divide, exploit, and generally stamp on the face of the general public?
Moving to the Alaskan wilderness and living in a 19th-century cabin hundreds of miles from civilization never seemed so appealing before...