Mind-Reading: A Futuristic Possibility


I’m not typically one to report the news.  In fact, I tend to keep my opinions on religion, politics, parenting, and most other volitile subjects to myself.  But, this was entirely too disturbing.

An article on CNN’s belief blog entitiled Keep Government Out of Mind-Reading Business caught my eye this morning.

How would you feel if someone where able to reach into your brain and extract any information that they wanted to?  I would feel pretty violated.  I’ll admit, I still feel pretty violated after an invasive exam.  But, mind-reading goes above and beyond any procedure.  My mind is my mind.  The end. 

I see the practical applications of this technology.  It would provide more accurate lie detection in law enforcement and aid in national security.  It could solve crimes without sufficient physical evidence and out possible terrorists.  All of these things could help make our society safer.

But, how invasive is too invasive?  I agree with the author, Paul Root Wolpe, in his sentiment that our legal system is already incredibly invasive when it comes to violating our human rights.  Once we are a suspect, it seems as if our civil rights go out the window.  We become subject to searches in every aspect of our physical and internet lives.  In fact, there was just a story about how a judge ordered a divorcing couple to swap Facebook passwords in order to collect evidence against one another.  It goes down to even providing DNA samples.  We are fingerprinted for jobs now.

Again, I see the useful and probably life-saving application of these measures.  But, it’s completely unnecessary.  Some may retort, “Why would it be a problem if you have nothing to hide?”  This is where mental health concerns come into play.  The differences in brain chemistry between a typical brain and an affected brain would become apparent in these mind-reading brain scans.  Then, do we become profiled?

It’s already bad enough that many of us hide in the corners of the internet, safely writing behind our screens.  This is all out of fear that someone will discover that we have (insert disorder here), and then the sensitive information is in someone else’s hands to do whatever they want with it.  We can go on about how this information is protected under HIPPA and The American’s With Disabilities Act.  However, we’ve seen people circumvent the law before.  I’ve seen people use the knowledge of my disorder against me in many different ways and make my existence unbearable.  Why should I be in favor of someone extracting this information by accident?  Ben Franklin once said, “The only way to keep a secret between three people is if two of them are dead.”

We would become profiled.  I’m sure it would be notated in some government file somewhere that would come back to haunt us.  I can only imagine it.  I go to renew my clearences for work, and I’m denied.  Why?  Because someone, somewhere in the chain of command sees me unfit for my job.  Ridiculous, but true.

Your thoughts?

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9 thoughts on “Mind-Reading: A Futuristic Possibility

  1. I am in complete agreement with you. I don’t like the idea, and the potential for using it for misdeeds is far greater than any positive stemming from it.
    It’s not about having anything to hide, it’s about wanting to maintain a modicum of privacy over the one thing that is yours alone-your mind. If someone violates us physically, it is assault, so how could violating our minds NOT be viewed the same way?
    And speaking from personal experience, I’d take a thousand physical assaults over the damage one person can do to your psyche by betraying your trust.
    That story is just frightening beyond words.

    • There is nothing worse than psychic trauma. Where do you draw the line at that? It can do more harm than good.

      I have nothing else to hide besides the BP and my link between Lulu and Em. But those two things could destroy life as I know it. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am. I don’t want to be profiled for something I was born with, but I’m controlling. I’d rather be profiled for something that came out of my mouth or computer. Like this article.

  2. First and foremost, I think my mind would honestly cause the machine to overload and short out – no exaggeration. As you know, Lulu, I don’t care who knows about my mental health issues. I’m on SSI disability, so they are already a matter of permanent public record, and that doesn’t bother me in the least.

    I would be curious, though. A very skilled liar – if they tried this theoretically impending technology on him or her, what would the results be? It’s easy to beat a polygraph if you know how. We would never really know what the results would be of tests on a skilled liar – because they would neither confirm nor deny.

    I do think that it’s ridiculously past invasive, and I like the idea of the Fifth Amendment. But if this becomes something that’s actually put into action, you will see me as my Gravatar, only it will be Ruby Leading The People. Wouldn’t that be a sight? Eyes ablaze, hair wild, waving my Constitution in one hand and my tattered American flag in the other? I, unfortunately, could not go bosom exposed, because then I would be thrown in to jail on legitimate charges – and be completely at the mercy of the system.

    You should read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. Everyone in the United States should read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t happen Here.

    • I am not a skilled liar. I do not typically lie because it produces an intolerable physical response (thanks Dad). Your brain could fool it and likely break the whole damned thing. I know mine can’t. I only lie to save myself from certain destruction. I have lied to avoid arguments with C.S. I have lied to save my job once. I have lied to hoard medication. And I’ve lied about my financial situation to ward off vultures. I’m too generous to turn people down. I would spend myself into the poor house to help others. I can’t take away from my family.

      But if it ever comes to it, I’ll be right beside you. And I’d come out about BP before they’d even have a chance to out me. I will fight for civil liberties and the safety of others like me. Even if I have to sacrifice my own comfort and safety.

      • My brain. My brain indeed. They would be asking me questions about illegal activity and I would be trying to figure out clothing choices (taking into account what’s clean and currently fits me and shoes and makeup and jewelry to complete the look) for my next three nights out while singing all of the lyrics to every song on the Beatles White Album while counting up to one hundred then back down again backwards auf Deutsch while debating about a blog post and if I was hungry and where I could possibly stop that sounded even slightly appealing to get food and was it on my way home. . .

        And that would just be normal dissonance on a good day when I was focused. If I didn’t try and let my mind run wild I probably could break the machine. And I would, merely on principle.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this. Firstly, the US government is already trying to pass legislation so it has permission to index websites to make trends of what people are thinking and doing. This does not only apply to open-sourced websites, but also things you sign up to like Facebook. Potentially, the US government may pass legisation to trawl the internet treasure troves of your online profiles to determine security threats/areas of improvement/general opinion et cetera. This could been seen as an invasion of thoughts, but a more indirect one.

    Secondly, on this issue of brain scans, I think it also has some benefits as you have listed. However, is it ethical to submit a person to brain scans without their consent? Do we treat thought extraction as a form of violation of rights or another means of interview/investigation? Furthermore, it could be argued that some means of primitive thought extraction are criminalized due to their macabre nature, such as water-boarding under the Obama administration. This does not apply to brain scans as they, theoretically, painless. Do we therefore claim it is wholly a privacy issue? That may thoughts fall under the same secrecy as my medical documents? Even then, they are still able to be accessed by relevant authorities.

    I think for the legal system it should be able to be added to the repertoire of means to investigate a person. And, ideally, to be used when consent is given; this notion applies to things like figure printing in some countries, as you will be asked to be give your finger prints, but you can refuse – which will be met by using ‘reasonable force’ to acquire the prints. Likewise, we should give people the opportunity to freely consent to a brain scan in the judicial system; however, it could be warranted by a judicial officer if it was necessary to the inquiry. This could help verify pleads of insanity or mental impairment and therefore not only act as a means of prosecution, but defense.

    On problem that needs to be considered is how the judicial system would apply such a brain scan system: would it be purely on suspicion that the police could pull you up and scan your brain and stop you in in futuro (for the future) crimes you may commit, or when a complaint is lodged against you and a case qualifies to be sent to trial (hopefully through a meticulous committal procedure)? I think we should not punish crimes in futuro and therefore should not scan suspects; we should only mandate a brain scan on a person who has a prima facie case that could hold a conviction (based on traditional standards) and then use brain scans as one form of determining truth/the most consistent claim of a parties to a case. That still should be determined by a jury. Additionally, who is to say that this knowledge that a person has a brain abnormality/propensity wont therefore be eligible for special rehabilitation programmes and not traditional sanctions (incarceration etc)? It could act as a mitigation, or partial defense, but not a blanketing excuse.

    I do agree that in the public and private spheres of life that we should be given privacy to our thoughts and opinions; it is our choice as to whether we broadcast our opinions and thoughts in free society. Transparency only needs to exist in the corporations and governments of societies, not in each individual private lives. That should be recognised not as a human right, but a civil right -one that be suspended if you jeopardize the community at large.

    Sorry for the spiel! Just some thoughts to ponder, I suppose 🙂

    Regards,
    Chabel Khan.

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