16 votes

Facebook is funding brain experiments to create a device that reads your mind

12 comments

  1. [4]
    patience_limited
    Link
    [Warning: paranoid(?), mostly obvious, and better-covered-elsewhere rant follows] Science fiction isn't doing a great job of staying ahead of the technology curve anymore. If we gamed out all of...

    [Warning: paranoid(?), mostly obvious, and better-covered-elsewhere rant follows]

    Science fiction isn't doing a great job of staying ahead of the technology curve anymore.

    If we gamed out all of the ways that brain/infospace interface technologies could go right or wrong, the prospect of a tool that uses you ought to cause some pause for thought.

    On bad days, I'm horrifyingly aware that I'm nothing but a multi-dimensional set of data vectors, a walking sensor among billions of others, feeding vast, cool, and unsympathetic number crunchers owned by people whose interests are often antithetical to mine.

    I can shut off the smartphone, walk away from the keyboard, and head for the hills occasionally, as long as I'm still capable of wanting to do that. Every increment of ease, the apparent graceful accession of the world to my wants at the click of an icon (or now, vocalization, and soon, thought), makes it more difficult to disconnect and deal with the effortful, obstinate unconnected world. As long as I have money, which can flow with equal ease into the pockets of the enablers.

    We should not want this ease as much as those enablers would like. Though part of me would rejoice to have all the knowledge and converse of the connected world available at an instant's impulse, read directly from my head without pause, it's poisoned bait. Every thought or whim could be met with biased feedback that reshapes those thoughts and whims - the equivalent of having Fox News in your head.

    As much as we dismiss the power of advertising, it does a fantastic job of seeding anxieties - am I thin enough, do I smell bad, will I ever get laid, are my belongings projecting the right image, are the Chinese going to take my job, will the world melt down tomorrow... The "factual" sources are increasingly biased towards the paid advertisers' ends, rather than allowing informed resistance.

    It's destructive enough in media you can escape. Yet as platforms have become more and more essential for daily living, so we've granted them more access to knowledge about the core levels of our identities, desires, and behavior. The manipulations aren't omnidirectional anymore, they're deeply tailored to our personal fears and wants. We're just beginning to see the possible harms of inviting the puppeteers into our thoughts.

    By now, it practically goes without saying that Facebook is untrustworthy, and shouldn't be granted more access to improve response to its hosted advertisements, regardless of any government guardrails. But I don't think anyone can be trusted with continual monitoring capability at this level, even for the most benign purpose.

    The ability to "read" thoughts and convert them to intelligible data is incredibly useful; yes, you can let the mute speak, but this technology is so boundlessly invasive that it should never be implanted or otherwise made permanently connected.

    10 votes
    1. [3]
      gergir
      Link Parent
      Exactly. If people did everything just because it's possible we'd have been extinct a long time ago. I'm no Luddite, but a great deal of current technology - and I'm born into it, not a pre-90s...

      Exactly. If people did everything just because it's possible we'd have been extinct a long time ago. I'm no Luddite, but a great deal of current technology - and I'm born into it, not a pre-90s model - is rubbish, toy-like, or even detrimental. Of course freely accessible networks are great, and e-mail, IM, IRC, etc. are godsend to many, but what is the obsession with hanging your whole life out the window on SM sites? And who needs Hollywood puppet #86780's thoughts on religion, science, or politics after the first kilo of cocaine of the evening? Or just a reasonably priced Chilean "Chablis" in a hugely oversized wineglass...

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        Enoch
        Link Parent
        This made me laugh (in a good way) 'cause 4 comments under this one on your user page... :

        I'm no Luddite

        This made me laugh (in a good way) 'cause 4 comments under this one on your user page... :

        If I had a phone

        3 votes
  2. [3]
    ali
    Link
    On one hand I’m very curious how far they can get since wearable devices for reading brain signals so far were very limited. I can imagine this tech being used to help disabled people greatly. But...

    On one hand I’m very curious how far they can get since wearable devices for reading brain signals so far were very limited.
    I can imagine this tech being used to help disabled people greatly.
    But since it’s Facebook I’m also sure the result will be literally uploading your thoughts to be analyzed. And people will use it because they slap a 2000 dollar pricetag on but then have it on 'sale' for 500.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      ReapersGale
      Link Parent
      Does sound like a continuation of what Mary Lou Jepsen was working on there prior to leaving to found OpenWater.

      Does sound like a continuation of what Mary Lou Jepsen was working on there prior to leaving to found OpenWater.

      3 votes
      1. shiruken
        Link Parent
        That would be an accurate description.

        That would be an accurate description.

        1 vote
  3. Rocket_Man
    Link
    The devices themselves seem simple enough. I'm sure it'll just be a bunch of sensors and some machine learning software. Then you'll do some quick training and be able to do commands with it. The...

    The devices themselves seem simple enough. I'm sure it'll just be a bunch of sensors and some machine learning software. Then you'll do some quick training and be able to do commands with it.

    The main concern will always be the data they collect. Which I imagine would be used to determine how much you like something. Then we'll be dealing with Skinner box 2.0.

    But this has got me thinking about the problem more than I have in the past. I don't think I approve of reading people's brains as a basis for an interface. It interferes with privacy too much.

    Instead I think I'd be much more supportive of using standardized electrodes that you can then connect to various devices. Basically adding more limbs, even digital ones. Although come to think of it the human brain really just might not work well for this kind of stuff.

    1 vote
  4. [4]
    ThisIsMyTildesLogin
    Link
    Why would anyone want this?

    Why would anyone want this?

    1. eladnarra
      Link Parent
      I don't know if anyone wants this from Facebook, but the article mentions a particularly interesting potential use case: Assistive tech is often quite slow - some disabled people use things like...

      I don't know if anyone wants this from Facebook, but the article mentions a particularly interesting potential use case:

      Facebook says the research project is ongoing, and that is it now funding UCSF in efforts to try to restore the ability to communicate to a disabled person with a speech impairment.

      Assistive tech is often quite slow - some disabled people use things like computer interfaces that involve spelling out words with an eye tracker, for example. Obviously there's stuff like auto-completion which increases speed, but it's not ideal.

      If it ever exists as a viable technology, I'd also like to experiment with it myself (assuming there were actually robust privacy measures). I have repetitive stress injuries, but using speech-to-text when those flare up is very tiring because of my chronic illness. I find talking to be more tiring than thinking/typing, and it could be that an effective "mind reader" would be easier.

      1 vote
    2. [2]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      It's not always a question of "want". Let's say, for a wide range of reasons, your employment depended on having a neural interface: a surgeon, getting real-time consults and annotated vitals; a...

      It's not always a question of "want". Let's say, for a wide range of reasons, your employment depended on having a neural interface:

      • a surgeon, getting real-time consults and annotated vitals;
      • a stock-market trader, shepherding an algorithmic platform, if the law requires a human to approve its actions;
      • a fighter jet pilot, again acting as the human in the loop to prevent AI errors;
      • a musician jamming with a band across continents.

      That's a list of wild-ass use cases I can come up with off the top of my head. It's such a powerful technological edge that many people would feel compelled to "upgrade" themselves. Employers might start to differentially select for the link-enabled, and then it's a mass-market equity demand.

      1. CALICO
        Link Parent
        Neural interfaces, if sufficiently comprehensive, might have a few interesting uses outside of employment and markets. I'm mostly interested in the technology for what it means to be human, to be...

        Neural interfaces, if sufficiently comprehensive, might have a few interesting uses outside of employment and markets. I'm mostly interested in the technology for what it means to be human, to be a human that's more.

        The human thought process is a wild storm of abstraction. Layered. Almost chaotic. And it's a singular experience. The self can only ever be experienced by itself. Language, music, art. They can capture some of what happens in our minds, and allows it to be shared with others. But communication between selves is lossy, inexact, and time consuming. It's low-bandwidth, and often more is lost in the transition than we intend. A technology that could directly interface two or more minds together, that could connect one subjective experience to another, would be a revolution on par with the development of language itself.

        What would it mean for the human experience to remove that barrier between minds?
        Instead of telling you what I think, you could think my thoughts. Feel my feelings. Dream, my dreams.
        What would that mean for interpersonal relationships? Intimacy? Politics?
        How would that change society? How would that change culture? Education? Invention?

        When I look at brain-computer interfaces, I don't see a tool for simple productivity. I see an opportunity to transcend our biological limitations, to improve upon our unguided evolution.

        Outwardly, the human animal hasn't really changed in 200,000 years. Internally, the human mind has been modern for 70,000 years. Are we done? I'd like to see what we can be.

        2 votes