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For the past several generations of Sci-Fi entertainment, we have actually underestimated the advancement of a certain technology: The interface.
I remember in Star Wars and Star Trek, Space 199, and Battlestar Galactica (the old one), Human/Machine interfaces were very primitive compared to modern GUI, multi-touch and now computer vision interfaces.
The next step is already in prototype: The brain interface.
The brain interface is a simple system where an array of electrodes is placed on your head. After the computer has a baseline on your brain waves, it can essentially read your intentions. While this technology is limited and used primarily for gaming, it is a clue of things to come, good and bad.
Let’s first examine the potential good.
What good can come from remote computer control directly through a brain wave interface?
First and possibly foremost is the security aspect. Your brain wave patterns, it seems, are very similar to your fingerprints. You are the only one with those particular ones. To keep prying eyes out of your computer, it may be as simple as registering your brain wave pattern as the only one with clearance. Of course computer error happens, and some hacker somewhere will find a way to defeat it. But that doesn’t make it not a significant step forward in security.
Another significant improvement is the un-chaining from the terminal. Because these brain wave devices work wirelessly, you can potentially be in a whole other room and manipulate the computer from there. Turn down the music? Change the channel? Command the computer to read email to you? All of these and a great deal more are possibilities. But they only scratch the surface of the tip of the iceberg.
When integrated with other up and coming tech such as the self driving car, you could use this technology to change your destination on the fly. Or use it to apply brakes or other commands when Human control is needed.
Used therapeutically, a technology like this could be used to sharpen ones sense of focus or as a biofeedback mechanism.
OK, there is some good. So where’s the bad?
As stated earlier, this technology is being used mostly in video gaming. What happens to the game addict who is so immersed by this technology that he cannot get his self to stop playing?
Applied commercially or politically in the place of polls, brain wave interfaces could be used to determine how a person really feels about a candidate or a product or an issue.
Legally, such a technology could become admissible as evidence in court. It could also be used in criminal investigations. Body language would be relegated to the back of the class. Brain waves would tell it all.
Would a technology like this make a hackers job easier once he got past the security aspect? He would not be limited by how fast he can type, but by how fast he can think. He would not need to hit the enter button physically, and there would likely be no typos on his part to trip him up.
Let’s consider big brothers potential uses for this technology. Would you feel comfy-cozy with large corporations and government intelligence agencies having a database of your thought processes, memories, intentions, emotions, dreams and day dreams? Many of us aren’t comfortable with a certain search engine gone empire keeping a history of our internet browsing. How will we feel to learn they keep a history of our mind? That is only speculation of course, but it’s not so far away from probable.
Even Human tracking could be enabled greatly by a brain wave scanning technology. Imagine if your brain wave pattern is kept in a central server somewhere, and a remote reader could filter all the brain waves in a given location. How would anyone hide from that? Not to say that such devices cannot be electronically jammed, but most people do not even know how to jam radio waves.
Are we really prepared for this kind of technology to be applied to virtually everything?
Can we trust the people who will have the most access and control over it?
It is not a question of whether this technology is going to happen. It’s happening now. The question is how we are going to respond to it. And that, currently, is an open question.