Courtesy of Ken Pope, a Wired magazine article on hypersonic sound, which “broadcasts audio in a focused beam, so that only a person standing directly in its path hears the message. In this case, the cable channel A&E was using the technology to promote a show…” The article’s title? “Why the Next Civil Rights Battle Will Be Over the Mind.”
The article goes on to outline some of the latest invasive brain technology:
We think of our brains as the ultimate private sanctuary, a zone where other people can’t intrude without our knowledge or permission. But its boundaries are gradually eroding. Hypersonic sound is just a portent of what’s coming, one of a host of emerging technologies aimed at tapping into our heads. These tools raise a fascinating, and queasy, new ethical question: Do we have a right to “mental privacy”?
“We’re going to be facing this question more and more, and nobody is really ready for it,” says Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist and board member of the nonprofit Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. “If the skull is not an absolute domain of privacy, there are no privacy domains left.” He argues that the big personal liberty issues of the 21st century will all be in our heads — the “civil rights of the mind,” he calls it.
It’s true that most of this technology is still gestational. But the early experiments are compelling: Some researchers say that fMRI brain scans can detect surprisingly specific mental acts — like whether you’re entertaining racist thoughts, doing arithmetic, reading, or recognizing something. Entrepreneurs are already pushing dubious forms of the tech into the marketplace: You can now hire a firm, No Lie MRI, to conduct a “truth verification” scan if you’re trying to prove you’re on the level. Give it 10 years, ethicists say, and brain tools will be used regularly — sometimes responsibly, often shoddily.
I’d like to hear more evidence about this idea that brain scans can detect thoughts. Note that the examples are types of thoughts (racist, mathematical, reading, recognition), rather than actual thought content.
Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.