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Thought talking promises to one day revolutionize our lives
Dick Pelletier   Dec 4, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Touch screens, voice recognition, and systems that track eye and muscle movements all offer efficient ways of communicating, but transmitting thoughts directly to machines, without any implant in the brain could affect our lives more than any other technology under development today.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh have teamed up to work on Intel's Human Brain Project that involves the transmission of human thoughts directly to a computer. Over the next 10 years, scientists hope to create an unobtrusive brain-scanning headset that will allow users to operate wheelchairs, prosthetics, voice synthesizers, and computers, with just their thoughts.

This research boasts incredible potential. For example, instead of Googling for facts and manually typing my weekly articles, I would simply don a headset and think about what I want to say. The machine would scan my brain, search the Internet for relevant content, then create a perfect piece for my approval.

Would this automated system then steal my job? No, it would just improve on the details for each piece. My brain would still be necessary to select and approve the articles.

Some believe this technology could one day convert thoughts and send them through the Internet to another brain, creating brain-to-brain thought talking.

Renowned author Freeman Dyson believes the biggest game-changing science will be what he describes as "radio-telepathy," the direct communication of feelings and thoughts from brain-to-brain.

Genetics and molecular biology may be the dominant science in the 2010s and 2020s, Dyson says, but the 2030s belong to neurology. In Dyson's proposed scheme: "We would invent two new technologies, the direct conversion of neural signals into radio signals, and the placement of microscopic radio transmitters and receivers that could remotely penetrate the tissues of a living brain.”

One would simply think of a person's name, and with their approval, the connection would be made. In addition to exchanging thoughts, memories, and feelings, people could also gaze through each other's eyes. Imagine experiencing a beautiful sunset or heated romantic encounter through another's eyes.

It's easy to envision thought talking from one human to another, but positive futurists predict we could also extend this technology to other species. We could feel the joy of birds flying or the terror of a deer being hunted. With brain-to-brain communication, we will experience life in many new and amazing ways.

By late 2030s or early 2040s, computers are predicted to surpass human intelligence, an event that some believe will result in the development of wireless interfaces that connect brains with machines, allowing an information flow to control activities between the human mind and its machines.

However, before we can reach this level of expertise, science must first unravel the mysteries of human consciousness. How does an "I" arise from a clump of biological neurons? Could the answer be found in how our 100 billion neurons connect with each other?

The National Institutes of Health hopes to foster research that will one day solve this eternal puzzle with the Human Connectome Project, a $30-million research effort to promote major leaps in understanding brain functions. Researchers want to determine how brain activities translate into mental function.

Other advantages expected from this technology include a better insight into the mind, which could lead to eliminating much of the evil found in criminals, sociopaths, and others that would harm society.

As we move through the last half of the 21st century, each decade will see humanity shedding more of its biology, and replacing it with powerful non-biological materials that can automatically self-repair when damaged. Transitioning into this new body material will signal the end of most of today's human deaths.

Free from concerns over dying, humanity can now grasp the true meaning of humanness while enjoying the benefits of an indefinite lifespan. Some predict we will become a ‘cosmic species' scattering our populations to the stars; and one day, more humans will live in space than on Earth. Comments welcome.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


I think it’s a good thing that, while I have chosen to pursue a career in cognitive science with precisely these applications in mind, I find the prospect of immediate brain interfacing not just extremely enticing, but also quite scary. This technology - if at all feasible - has a tremendous potential for misuse. Today, we’re fighting for the freedom of the internet and the security and privacy of our data and devices. In two or three decades, we may have to fight for the freedom of our very thoughts, for the security and privacy of our minds.
Notably, as the opportunities will likely be mind-bendingly great, the technology will likely be adopted regardless of the risks. The more important, then, to identify these risks ahead of time and deal with them as early as possible!

Kernfel, you are absolutely correct. As with all NBIC technologies, breakthroughs will come with risks. It behooves us to provide built-in protections as these forward technologies advance.

Can humanity manage this new science as it unfolds? Time will tell.

This technology is quite interesting. It seems like this would be a technology that would get people on board with transhumanism, unlike the things like changing the material of your body or giving yourself robotic blood cells.

I don’t find it likely that this will be used to drive wheelchairs or anything like that though, because there’s too many distracting thoughts.

My position on transhumanism is basically one of bodily bioconservativism, keeping parts in the human body natural except where there’s no other option and taking advantage of anti-aging possibilities. I recognize that anti-aging technology would be largely invasive but I think that aging is worse.

This technology alarms me in its potential to reveal every secret in a person’s mind and another thing I don’t like is the potential to communicate directly through thought. It’s the last place of a person’s privacy. But regardless of the technology, I’m worried that people are unable to are too busy to fight for their privacy rights today. And I don’t like David Brin’s idea of a post privacy world, because for some people, me included, just can’t handle the complete and utter lack of privacy regardless of who can snoop on whom.

I do not see the privacy issue impeding this technology.

With the possibility of neuron enhancement arriving in the 2030s and 2040s and a maturing quantum computer industry that promises unbreakable security systems, thought talking could one day become the world’s most popular secure and trusted human communication method.

We may see a minor glitch in people adapting to this method of communicating; one has to admit this is a strange way to talk, but again; with neuron enhancements, this should not be a major problem.

I believe that by century’s end, today’s verbal talking will be considered inefficient and crude; and will disappear from the human scene.

@Dick: How settled a matter of currently-understood physics is the prospect of unbreakable security systems?

This recent Phys Org article explains how tomorrow’s quantum mechanics enables perfectly secure cloud computing:

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