The All-Seeing Eye: Mind Reading and Your Right to Privacy
When you saw this article's title and decided to read it, you were probably wondering if maybe I had watched The Men Who Stare at Goats a few too many times or maybe if I was just one of those people who visits their local psychic every week to get the latest winning lottery numbers. But, in fact, neither is the case. I have only seen the movie once and choose my lottery numbers the way any logical person who understands the way odds work does... I check the fortune cookie that comes with my Chinese egg rolls. Duh!
What got me to write about the subject of mind reading was instead an article on the news regarding the government's advances in this science. Wait a minute, I thought. Did this story on a well respected news channel just call mind reading science? A quick search on the internet found several such stories. These were reports written by respected newsmen based on information obtained from leading scientists. These scientists were men who clearly knew what they were talking about. That was when I started getting scared.
The specific branch of scientific study that mind reading falls under is neuroscience. This is the study of the human brain and central nervous system. Scientists have been researching how our brains work probably since the beginning of scientific study as we know it. As much as man longs to understand the world around him, he desires to truly understand himself even more. But now this branch of study seems to be bringing us rapidly to an ethical crossroads that promises to be more controversial and more heatedly debated that any other since the question of cloning human beings made the news.
Where We Are Now
Perhaps the first thing that might surprise you is how far science has come in its quest to understand the mind and how it works. Already, under the right conditions, sophisticated equipment can scan the brain revealing information such as certain languages the subject can read and what sleeping individuals are dreaming about. This can be done because scientists have discovered exactly which parts of the brain are associated with certain thoughts and processes. Apparently, as much as we all like to consider ourselves individuals, we still use the same part of our brains to read Portuguese.
But it goes beyond simply matching the parts of the brain to thoughts associated with a particular item or process. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were able to predict what the brain would look like if an individual were shown objects for which no previous data existed based on previous responses to similar items. Their predictions were not perfect, but they were amazingly close. And in the coming years, that accuracy is expected to improve to the point of perfection.
Where Are We Headed?
Eventually, the advances being made in brain scanning are expected to give us the ability to determine when someone is lying, when someone is not being forthcoming and even who is a potential criminal. Remember Minority Report? Things getting a little freaky? While these tools could do a lot of good if put to the right uses, where to draw the line is going to be a very difficult question to answer. And what if the technology ends up in "the wrong hands"?
This technology will make it possible to have virtually foolproof lie detectors tests. Police will be able to obtain information from suspects with or without their cooperation. Employers will be able to discover practically anything about applicants without a background check (or even checking Facebook *gasp*). Criminals released from prison could be fully monitored to be sure they do not repeat offenses. It will even be possible to know if they intend to break more laws. Those unjustly imprisoned would be able to prove their innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But what if those lie detector tests are being used to determine who has been speaking out against an unjust system? What if the police using the technology are corrupt and simply eliminating their competition? What if that employer simply does not want to hire anyone that might join a union? Suppose a corrupt probation officer wanted to know which ex-convicts were open to illegal schemes they hoped to organize? Will the good the technology can do outweigh the potential; harm? We are the ones who must choose the right path. Are you ready?
This same technology will make it possible for the government to know how you will vote, what things could change your mind and how to manipulate you to get the result they desire. It will reveal all your secret fantasies to anyone with the authority to scan your brain or anyone smart enough to do so without authority. This technology has the potential to display every black mark on your soul if we allow it.
Clearly we have some important decisions to make. Under what circumstances would a brain scan be justified? Does a brain scan violate an individual's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? Do we trust our government enough to allow them the use of this powerful... well, should we call it a tool or a weapon? Again, it really depends on how it is put to use and we (you know... "we the people") are going to have to make those tough decisions.
Here are just a few of the many articles I was able to find...
- My Take: Keep government out of mind-reading business
Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., is director of Emory University’s Center for Ethics. This is his blog post on CNN regarding mind reading as a science and also the article that first got my attention.
- Society for Neuroscience - Reading Minds: the Science, not the Fiction
The Society for Neuroscience is a nonprofit membership organization of basic scientists and physicians who study the brain and nervous system. This is an article regarding the science of mind reading.
- Now Showing: Movie Clips From Your Mind : Discovery News
Blurry images taken from the human brain reveal movie clips just watched by test subjects. Yikers! Creepy much?
- Researchers Can Predict Future Actions from Human Brain Activity | Neuroscience News
This article from Neuroscience News focuses on brain research that can predict premeditated actions. I wonder if it can predict me being totally freaked out by this?!?
How concerned are you about the prospect of mind reading becoming scientific fact?See results without voting
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