No gap to mind

Technology has found a way to breach our last privacy frontier


Facebook has been funding research on brain-machine interfaces that can translate thoughts into words. Such a technology can be of great help for paralysed people, as it can decode their brain signals and convey their thoughts without the involvement of a single muscle.

That is a noble objective. Only that it is just a short-term goal for Facebook. The long-term goal is to make the tech available for everyone, to control devices using the power of their thought.

The research is being done by the University of California San Francisco. The participants in the study had electrodes surgically implanted on the surface of their brains. An algorithm read their brain activity and decoded it with accuracy rates as high as 61 per cent. The scientists want to develop a way of decoding thoughts that does not require surgery, like a headset with near-infrared light that can detect blood-flow changes in the brain.

Facebook is not the only one working on reading your mind. Elon Musk’s Neuralink recently said it was developing “threads” that can be implanted into a brain and could allow you to control your smartphone or computer with thoughts. Companies like Kernel and Paradromics and the US armed forces are also in the race.

The ethical implications of this technology are vast. It can interfere with some of the basic rights, like mental privacy, and may require new laws to be dealt with. Another concern is algorithmic accountability. Nobody might be able to explain if a machine erroneously decoded your thought. Then there is the philosophical concern of you not owning your thoughts.

Facebook, without doubt, is spending money on neurotechnology research with the intention of making more. The social media giant already knows much of its users’ cognitive profile from how they use the internet. One can only imagine the consequences of its tech getting into your brains.