TED Conversations

Lauren Bayer

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Will mind-reading eventually become a reality and what are the implications for humanity?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we learned about using electrical stimulation to mimic the electrical signals of the body. The nervous system uses electrical signals as it performs its tasks of communicating, processing information, storing memories, etc. As we learn more about the language of the nervous system, we can use advanced technology to “speak” to the body and get it to perform tasks that the body's nervous system might not be able to do. Neural prosthetics, for instance, provide electrical stimulation to the nerves that are connected to muscles, allowing those muscles which were paralyzed to move again.
As we learn more information about the “language” of the nervous system, science has begun to correlate certain actions or stimuli with specific frequencies and behavioral patterns of electrical activity in the brain. For example, many scientists studying the visual system look at firing rate patterns in the visual cortex of the brain and use the data to predict the images that are being seen.
Ultimately this reverse correlation process might be able to be applied to all parts of the brain, including memory.
This led me to wonder, do you think that there will ever be a time where we will literally be able to read people's brains? If we can one day understand how the brain processes every bit of information – then theoretically we should be able to measure the electrical activity from the deep layers of the brain and be able to predict what the person is thinking. And also in the reverse direction – what would happen if we could ever be able to use electrical stimulation to “insert” memories into people's brains?
Do you think this technology could be useful for treating patients with dementia who have lost their memories – in which patients could create a “back-up” file of their own memories in case they ever start to lose it? What implications would such technology have on humanity? And do you see ways in which it could be detrimental/beneficial?

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    Apr 19 2013: On one level, we read each other's minds all the time, and language and mirror neurons play a large roll in that. On a deeper level, I think some people have gifts that some would call "telepathy".

    But I think your question is more about whether we can plug our brain into a device that records those thoughts in such a way that they can be played back in such a way that any person could understand the thoughts in the recording. Japanese experiments have recorded some dream images, and we are slowly mapping out other "thoughts" as well.

    Mt guess: Over the coming centuries, not only will we be able to read people's minds, but we will also be able to experience their experiences, inject an "artificial" reality into their minds, The Matrix style. It's only a matter of time. Ultimately we'll be able to upload people's minds, live effectively "forever", complete with all your memories and personality, and you will still feel like you. Is it really you, or just a simulation of you? We'll let's ask you once you're in a simulation and see what you have to say.

    I know many of my TED friends here do not believe that these things are even possible in principle. And many other TEDsters would not want to be part of such a future, or would want to end a natural life at their natural time.

    If I am right, then ultimately, the implications for humanity are profound beyond profound, and we will eventually get to a point where the human species may well be a quaint anachronism, and souls occasionally reincarnate in human bodies (at least what they perceive to be human bodies) just to re-experience what it used to be like in the old days. Kind of like taking a vacation, a bit like the movie Total Recall for souls.
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      Apr 21 2013: Hi Danger,
      thank you for your contribution. I'm glad to hear that you agree with some of my predictions. I am curious if man will ever be able to read our minds, and I think that depends on the very nature of the brain. If our memories and thoughts are so contextual and rely heavily on biochemical processes, then maybe our memories will not be able to be stored on an external device. However, if we can figure out a way to represent our memories and thought processes in some concrete way then perhaps it is possible.
      If it would occur, I agree with you that the implications for humanity are profound, and I think it would completely change the nature of the human race. While most of the comments here have said it will affect it badly, maybe we can find ways in which this technology can enhance the human race. Maybe we'll discover how to use our minds in ways never before known, and like you said be able to keep representations of ourselves alive - that sounds a bit like living forever, which is kind of creepy - but you never know! The sci-fi movies that we've come to love and cherish, might not actually be so far from reality!
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        Apr 21 2013: When some people say things like "we are energy", and "energy can not be destroyed so are eternal" and so on, I strongly disagree with these points of view.

        But I think they are close - I think "we are 100% information", and information for sure can be destroyed, but it can also be copied and it can also be eternal. Information requires some manner of matter or energy in which to operate, in which the information can grow and learn. [Note: It is quite possible and consistent with my thinking, for the information in our souls to persist after death, and even continue to live on and grow, but I personally have no evidence to that effect so until I see some, I will continue to assume that does not happen, but now we're down a different discussion...]

        A given information pattern can be replayed on many different kinds of physical devices so long as that device supports the full fidelity of data underlying the information and allows the information to "live" and evolve over time according to its needs.

        Many TEDsters here would argue that in principle, there is something about the human mind and/or brain (or soul) that is unique, and that in principle it is impossible to truly transfer key parts of our brains, such as our memories, to an external device. I disagree with that point of view.

        From the perspective of information theory, I can't see how there could be any permanent dependency on biochemical processes in order to operate the information of our mind. It may be that we copy elements of biological processes in our own man made designs, which we do all the time, and maybe we do recreate parts of those biological processes outside the brain, but that is "just an implementation detail". The memory wouldn't know or care.
        • Apr 23 2013: It's strange how people who study science always show by their findings that the Bible is more than religion. For example, the Bible says that we will ending up with a new body that we will receive from God our creator that we will be able to do more than what we now think is possible. Living in a kind off energy field in which the spirit lives and able to do more greater things in real love than now is possible at this present time. But we will be loved by JHWH our Creater. Not used and trow away.His light will be our energy suply I think. He is telling about a nwe world witout the sun becouse He wil be the energie and light. Is the bible talking about the future off mankind? In the end off time that is now! we will gain more and more knowledge!!! That's what the Bible teaches! Is the bible siencefiction?
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    Apr 19 2013: Hi Lauren!

    Thanks for your question. I actually find it pretty scare to think of the consequences of mind-reading. I think a big portion of the beauty of life lies in the concept that it is unpredictable, especially when it comes to human interactions. If we produce a technology that enables us to read other people's minds, well I think that would be a great loss. I think it would prevent us from connecting with others in a very genuine way. Everything would be known, and therefore there would be no secrets, no ambiguities. Personally, I think this would hinder the way we live our lives.

    To think about "inserting" memories or ideas into people's brain is even scarier. This can be used as a tool for brainwashing and a lot of negativity can result in this.

    I do think there are some positive aspects to this potential advancement. For example, as you stated, it would be incredible for patients with dementia.
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      Apr 23 2013: Hadar,

      I like the things that you mentioned above, however, I don't think that you are fully considering the amazing advances this sort of technology will have in the medical field. As Lauren addressed, people suffering from dementia and memory loss will be provided an opportunity to remember their past! How incredible of an opportunity would that be for them! I've had the opportunity to witness a relationship between a close friend of mine and his grandfather who unfortunately suffered from Alzheimer's towards the end of his life, and all I can remember my friend saying was that he wished his grandfather recognized who he was. With advancement in technology, I strongly believe, if used properly and only in these types of circumstances, could be revolutionary and heartwarming to thousands of families across the world. Maybe because I witness this experience first hand, but watch any movie or read any book or any personal experience where a character suffers from Alzheimer's and imagine how much you'd be fixing with this technology! Think about it...
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    Apr 19 2013: Hi Lauren,
    This is a cogent question for our times.
    I'll make a few observations:

    1. Electrical signals are less than half the story in neuronal function. It is true that a neuron uses electrical potential as part of the process, but all the rest is chemical. If you stimulate a neuron electrically, it will eventually die if the chemical correlates are not also taken care of. So on that score, we have a long way to go.
    2. Firing patterns can be used analytically, but they are a blunt instrument - the firing rate of a neuron has more to do with the phase-locking of synaptic pathways.
    3. Frequencies such as beta/alpha waves etc are more caused than causal .. once again, a blunt instrument.
    4. Memories in a brain are not like computer memory. They are contextual and appear to work by association rather than store/retrieve.

    The whole key to what a brain is, and what it does, is the context in which it operates. The contextual framework self-organises in incredibly complex layers defined by synaptic potentials. This arrangement has been referred to as a "connectome" .. and lately, I have seen that this term has divided into 2 meanings:
    1. The fine topology of synaptic potentials between neurons
    2. The coarse potentials between functional areas of the brain.
    Of these, it is the latter which is currently being researched to determine aspects of psychology.

    Context being the key to everything - without that key, there will be no reading of minds. Context is infinite and subtle - each moment and each location possesses a unique context.

    The best we could do on that front seems to be to understand how the RTPJ (Right Temporal Parietal Junction) works:

    But even if we were to ultimately uncover exactly what is going on in a mind, we would not understand it - the flaw being that it will be "read" by applying it to our own context - in doing that, the meaning changes - so we will never read minds.
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      Apr 19 2013: Hi Mitch,
      thank you for your comment. I think you bring up a really important point about context when it comes to forming the circuitry of the brain. I always wondered, if it would ever be possible to have a person who already has dementia to become who they were and remember the past through some type of treatment that focuses on rebuilding the synaptic connections that were destroyed. But I think you're right in stating that that idea might never be possible. Every event that occurs in the world around us, and thus subsequently our personal memories, are so unique and rely on so many variables that the likelihood of ever recreating that memory is slim to none.
      On the other hand, science today still doesn't know exactly how memory works and is stored in our brains from a biochemical and electrical perspective. Perhaps with greater understanding, scientists could figure out a way to engineer the system for humanity?
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        Apr 19 2013: Well, I cannot see any means by which a destroyed synapse can be restored.
        Let us suppose that the synapse itself could be regenerated .. but that is only the "house" if the original synaptic sensitivity is not also restored then it's a house with no one living in it.

        Now here's a thing - if every single synapse .. around 100 trillion? .. if every single one could be mapped for it's sensitivity, its parent neuron and its target neuron (we now have 300 trillion aspects).

        And then if that network could be copied .. then we would have that mind as it was at time of scanning .. but the scan would have to be instantaneous. Synaptic strengths are very dynamic .. the rate of change in them is graduated depending on its role in the entire scheme .. some change continuously, some are potentiated more and some get cemented in place .. these are the sodium calcium and myelin stages - that we know of .. then there are numbers of receptors . this tends to make it all continuous.

        But then .. we have a mind in context of a body - the specific senses and motor structures which are also subject to change.
        I suppose that such a mega-trillion database is possible. This is the basis of some of the "singularity" discussion .. we could have a person "printed" into a computer simulation where it could be held for download into a cloned body with a 3-d protein-printed brain .. but then this person is a snapshot - his original would have become something else in the interim.

        Here is where I go with all this: everything we understand and talk about .. our words, our deeds .. it is all in context of a self. When we say "read a mind" the subtext is "read a mind for the advantage of myself" .. that advantage might be benign or malignant .. but it is a function of the self who wants to read. There are 2 in the discussion, but the frame is just 1.
        We need to know more about self before we break the barriers between selves. Such a "reading of minds" might result in the loss of 2 to make 1.
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          Apr 19 2013: Hey Mitch, Have you ever heard or read about a woman called Jean Boylan? A forensics sketch artist who rose to fame in the early 90's in the states, it was through her intuitive leap of connecting how we store our memories in a layered form of visual and scent with feelings but can become fragmented with time, especially with traumatic experiences. If she could interview a person early and counsel them she could retrieve with a high level of accuracy an almost pixel perfect image of an assailant from a victim.

          It was how she drew the image out, her techniques that made her one of the best for her time. Sadly she was never recognized for her contribution to the science and at the time it was still a mans world when she was dealing with uncooperative police and, i suppose because she was attractive, never really taken serious. I had her readers digest book but lost it and this is all i could find on her these days.

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        Apr 20 2013: I agree with you Lauren, that perhaps with greater understanding, scientists could figure out a way to engineer the systems. Science has made incredible progress in this field recently, and I have confidence that they are discovering more all the time.

        There are two types of synapse connections...chemical and electrical. They know that in some cases, "by altering the release of neurotransmitters, plasticity can be controlled in the presynaptic cell".

        "Currant FDA approved drugs support the communication process through two different mechanisms".

        It appears, from information that is available at this time, that they are moving forward, and I believe that anything is possible:>)


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    Apr 18 2013: It is an order of magnitude. You can't even read your own mind.
  • Apr 19 2013: HI Lauran, that is quite an option, to read, and have proof of what you're thinking..

    Personally I say no way Hosay :) We need our freedom to be human and one of our human abilities is to pretend. This ability we also use in order to grow mentally.

    I believe our mind is in the spiritual realm and our brain is the 'receiver' of the brain in the physical world.

    Is it not so that science says a change of mind alters the brain? Of course they also say that the mind is the 'outcome' or result of the brain..

    In my opinion, NDE's are proof of the existence of the spiritual world. We have all heard of the first book on the subject "Life After Life" by Raymond Moody. The most convincing aspect of these experiences is their process- consistency in the millions of cases.

    If you'd like to read about it, this is a book about the human mind
    And this is a book about the spiritual world the mind is in.

    It always seems to me as if science is talking about the car and ignoring the driver :)
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      Apr 21 2013: Hi Adriaan,
      thanks for your contribution to the conversation.
      I think you bring up an important point about the mind vs brain. Because science today still doesn't completely understand what our mind is and how we think, there are many different theories about it actually is. Perhaps the mind, is like as you say, connected to the "spiritual realm" and links the spiritual realm to the physical world. But perhaps there is something scientific about the brain. I believe that this is one of these topics where the concept of accepting the scientific method as a mode of discovering truth about our world really applies. If you don't accept science, then you're not bound to think that the mind is something scientific, and can give spiritual and other worldly explanations. Me personally, however, do accept the scientific method, and am not willing to say that the mind is part of the spiritual realm. In my humble opinion, as a scientist, I think that there is a biochemical process occurring inside our brains, but our human minds just don't understand how it works yet. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.
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    Apr 19 2013: Hey Lauren,

    New advancements in neurotechnology seem to be introduced on a daily basis, and it's really exciting to see how the field continues to develop.

    There are a lot of different applications and developments that we could reasonably imagine could begin to be addressed by neurotechnology. For example, let's consider mind-reading. The mechanisms behind the function of the mind are so unknown that I'm not sure if it's even feasible to move technology in the direction of mind-reading - at least, as we imagine it now. I'm sure that a number of paradigms governing how we understand the function of the brain are prone to being radically changed sometime in the near future (in a manner somewhat similar to how the advent of special relativity theory influenced the understanding of physics). I say this mostly because so little is known about the mapping of the brain.

    Speaking of which - have you heard about the BRAIN initiative? There's a lot of interest in mapping the brain - which could impact the way in which we imagine neurotechnological applications.
    There's a similar project just getting off the ground in Europe.

    Inevitably, though, I think the use of electrical stimulation in neurotechnology will lead to really important medical advances. Andres Lozano (see the link below) very recently did a TEDx talk (at CalTech!) in which he discussed the recent advances of high-precision deep-brain stimulation and its implications for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.


    I hope that you find the links as inspiring as I did.
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      Apr 21 2013: Hi Osaze!
      thanks so much for sharing that ted talk with me - it was really interesting! I think it highlights just how powerful brain stimulation is, and show's how our level of functioning in day to day life is very dependent on the electrical activity of our brains. This in some ways, shows the importance of understanding the "language" of the brain as I stated earlier, and what all of its electrical signals means. If we understand the electrical signal completely, then I think in some ways the treatment of deep brain stimulation is even more powerful.
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    Apr 18 2013: Re: "theoretically we should be able to measure the electrical activity from the deep layers of the brain and be able to predict what the person is thinking."

    Again, we enter the realm of contradictions between omnipotence and omniscience, free will and determinism. Knowing the future IS changing the future. If we change the future we knew was going to happen, it means that our knowledge was incorrect.

    You think, you control your thoughts. But, as you are reading this, you process what I write. At this very moment I control your thoughts. Note that as I am writing it, I control your FUTURE thoughts because you have not read it yet. Weird, ha?

    I believe, instant transfer of thoughts will not be meaningful or helpful. I'm quite happy that other people cannot read my thoughts before I put them in order. Direct thought exchange would not improve understanding each other.

    Ability to forget information is as essential as the ability to remember. Without it, we would be extremely confused and stressed-out like some autistic people who don't have the ability to filter out and forget unimportant details (remember how Dustin Hoffman involuntary remembered all numbers from the phone book in "The Rainman" movie?) Forgetting past painful experiences is an important survival mechanism.
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      Apr 19 2013: Hi Arkady,
      thanks so much for your insightful comment. I think you bring up a good point about our ability to forget. I think that's probably a process that occurs in our brains and everyday life that often gets overlooked. While it is important for our everyday life to learn how to forget things, if we forget too much to the point that we don't remember who we are - then isn't that bad? I was thinking originally in the cases of people with dementia that don't remember very basic things about themselves to have this technology where if they know they are going to get alzheimers - we could allow the long term memory parts of the brain to be stored in some way or another so that they could recall those long term memories when they begin to forget them.. Obviously, if a memory is already in long term - they don't want to forget it. The short term memory, however, you're right in that it's probably not worth it to save.
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        Apr 19 2013: Re: "if we forget too much to the point that we don't remember who we are - then isn't that bad?" Yes, everything in excess can be bad, even moderation.

        Unfortunately, it's the short-term memory which people with Alzheimer's lose first. E.g., my father's friend calls him every 15 minutes to ask what time it is complaining that they have not talked for a long time; or she cannot find her keys. The long-term memory, however, is fine. Once in a while, when she is in the care facility, she would wonder why she is not home and would want to "go home" - to the address where she lived 40 years ago. It's very sad.

        People with Alzheimer's are often even unaware that they forgot something. When people remind them, they often take it as complete news. They won't remember how to use a cell phone, much less how to use some high-tech device. I'm sure, they would even deny that they need any kind of "memory device". The trick with "memory devices" is remembering to use them in the first place - a notebook would do the job, if you remember where it is. It's very possible that this device that can read human memory would not read anything from the brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease. (You may have guessed that I'm not a great fan of high-tech gadgets - I don't own a smart phone).

        There is another interesting kind of memory called "implicit memory". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_memory It's the one we use when we learn to ride a bicycle or pour water into a glass. It's subconscious and independent of explicit memory: "amnesic patients showed unimpaired ability to learn tasks and procedures that do not rely on explicit memory." Implicit memory also makes us believe familiar statements, even if we were explicitly warned that they are false. http://research.chicagobooth.edu/cdr/docs/FalseClaims_dpark.pdf
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    Apr 22 2013: What an interesting question! Once the mechanism by which memories are formed is completely understood, once the brain is completely mapped, it seems likely that this technology will be available for all sorts of applications - some more nefarious than others.
    When I read this question, I thought of those people who wrap their heads in tinfoil to protect themselves from governments or aliens using the technology you describe. It seems that if such a thing were developed, it would be more dangerous than helpful to the public.
    On the other hand, another beneficial application might be reading people's minds to determine the accurate account of a crime from a witness. This kind of technology would change how court proceeds.
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    Apr 21 2013: Lauren it seems clear that you mean by "a reality" either a technical device to read the brain or some other means that will make it easy for anyone to do. Mind reading is already possible for some individuals and perhaps for everyone but requires effort and or perhaps a natural talent or gift. For most of us it is intermittent at best and until such time as humans overcome our lower nature it is perhaps better so. There are several dreadful futuristic stories where the ultimate authoritarian dictator masters the reading and control of human brains. The recent discoveries that we can get a response to speech from people who are unable to control their bodies, or are in various sorts of coma due to trauma or disease, by monitoring changes in their brainwave patterns seems to be a step toward reading the brain. However it seems to me the biggest unanswered question we are living through right now is whether the positive aspects of technological advances will benefit us more than the destructive power of their unintended consequences (or intended in the case of greedy individuals and corporations). Will our lagging societal (moral?) evolution catch up so that we can use the creative genius of scientists to save the species if not the planet? On TED we regularly are treated to wonderful proposals by engineers (like thorium) that could make perhaps crucial improvements to benefit all mankind but how many have been implemented on any significant scale? To be effective most of them would require a consensus that first must be translated into political will. Witness the failure of congress to pass a universal background check, even when the polls showed a super majority (90%) of the public supported them. Yes, we seem to steadily be gaining in alternative power generation but it seems too slow to me. At the current rate of improvement I am pessimistically afraid we could attain 100% renewable sources of energy a decade after we have fracked ourselves beyond redemption.
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    Apr 20 2013: Hi Lauren,
    The question you posed is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly horrifying. I personally do feel that as we map out the electrical signals in the brain and gather data on how the different signals are interpreted, we come closer to “reading people’s brains”. But at the same time, we do still have a long way to go. I would imagine we will start from just basic interpretation of what kind of emotions a person is feeling, happy, sad, angry, confused, etc… I say basic but of course this would be a feat of its own considering how complex emotions can be and how they manifest differently in each individual. Understanding exactly what a person is thinking is still far away, but I believe it could happen. That being said, it is interesting to imagine what that could mean for humanity. Used properly, this ability could benefit a lot of people. In terms of medical treatments, helping patients with dementia like you suggested could be very advantageous. It could be used in the justice system to glean truthful information about a case from a suspect or witness. But it could also be highly dangerous. Imagine what it could mean if abused by politicians, terrorists, or corrupt officials. I think we have a long time before such technology can be developed and trusted to exist in our society.
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      Apr 21 2013: Neema, I agree with you.

      One day soon, we may be able to read the human brain and interpret the mind using technology. No matter how basic the mind reading is, it is a terrifying thought that technology will have advanced that far. Of course, this sort of technology can be beneficial for use as medical treatments, but imagine all of the negative possibilities it enables for mankind. In essence, we as humans need to be weary of the advancement of technology. If technology advances too fast, too quick, it has the possibility of being very harmful to the human species. What does this mean for our future, if such mind reading technologies were available? How could we trust the technology? Mankind will be a much different animal when this sort of technology is readily available and used.
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    Apr 19 2013: Fascinating question and topic Lauren!

    As you say..."As we learn more about the "language" of the nervous system", and all the other interconnected body/mind systems, it is interesting to speculate what science may discover.

    Are you familier with the TED talk by Christopher DeCharms? He speaks about a real time MRI with which a person can observe the brain function and with their thoughts, actively participate in changing some of the neural patterns.


    It seems like this technology, and some of the other technology you have mentioned would be very valuable to the evolution of humans. Like anything, however, it could possibly be misused.

    In addition to advanced science and technology, I believe when we use all our senses and functions, including logic, reason, intuition, instinct, etc., we can sometimes "feel" some things about other people. So we may not be able to feel exactly everything a person is thinking or feeling. However, with practice, open mind and heart, we certainly can intuit some things about people.
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      Apr 19 2013: HI Colleen,
      thanks for your contribution to the conversation!
      I agree with you that if people are aware of their surroundings - they can gain intuition about other people. i don't think that that's necessarily mind reading, as I was trying to explain to carolyn below, but rather think that that's us using our previous experiences to come to conclusions and judge the situation that we're in right now. The way we act is so dependent on our previous experiences, so I believe that having intuition about other people is really our brains comparing the present situation to others that we've seen in the past in order to come to some conclusion as to what that person could be doing.
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        Apr 19 2013: You are welcome Lauren.

        I don't think I said that intuition is mind reading. Intuition, as defined, is ..."immediate apprehension or cognition; knowledge or conviction gained by intuition; the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference".

        If we use our "previous experiences to come to conclusions and judge the situation", I suspect that we would be applying cognition WITH evident rational thought and inference, so it would not be considered intuition.

        The way we act is NOT always "dependent on our previous experiences.....unless.......that is how we choose to act.

        Based on the definition, I do not perceive intuition to be based on "our previous experiences to come to conclusions and judge the situation".
  • Apr 19 2013: Mind-reading is already a reality but a refused and misunderstood one. Something closed to the cellular technology if you scientists want to get an idea.
    It's a tool someone learn about when he is ready for it. The preparation is a spiritual one in the way that the person has to understand certain little things about himself.
    It is a question of consciousness.
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    Apr 19 2013: G'day Lauren

    This is funny because scientists laugh at what shamans & witch doctors & alike use to do now modern day science is starting to find out how they healed people for instance with just chanting & singing, one vibration effecting another & any electrical current is but another vibration that can be changed by another vibration.

  • Apr 18 2013: What about when you have a remote control where you can control your own thoughts? Will human civilization end when we all have dials where we can just turn on "happy and contented"? What about when the powers that be decide to make your brain more obedient? The military tries to desensitivize people to killing. What if they could deactivate a soldiers empathy in order to make him kill more effectively. What if you could develop a bio-weapon that increased human empathy? Instead of incinerating our enemies with explosions and fire we could just make them sympathetic in order to stop any attack on people. We have the notion of chemically castrating sex offenders. What if we could change the emotions so they would no longer commit crimes? How would society progress if every child could push a button to make themselves incredibly focused and intelligent unlocking the promise of every child?

    Unlocking the mysteries of human thought leads to a lot of questions and possibilities. You can easily conjure both nightmares and dreams. You should watch the TV show Dollhouse. It explores the idea of uploading and downloading personalities. You should also watch the movie Serenity since it involves the idea of widespread through manipulation.
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      Apr 18 2013: Hi William,
      thank you for your comment. I think you make a very good point, that this kind of technology could be extremely powerful. Many important issues will come up - like the role of the government in our lives. personal privacy, man's control over his emotions, and free will. All important things to consider when designing any new technology. I think human society would have to find a way to use this technology in the best way possible so that humans remain "human" and have the ability to have levels of privacy, think for themselves etc.. while at the same time employing the technology to further benefit mankind.
      This not only applies to this kind of phenomenon - but really any new technology. For instance, with the progress of medicine , we not only have drugs that can cure diseases but also drugs that can kill people faster. It's up to humans to decide how they want to use it.
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    Apr 18 2013: Read the mind of others at your own risk.
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    Apr 24 2013: It would certainly bring a new tool to the interrogation of prisoners. Though it might be ruled out as a violation of privacy.
  • Apr 24 2013: We will definitely be able to pick out the bad apples easily. Lies will not be an issue. This kind of connectivity would erase many of our problems and create new ones at the same time.

    Patients with dementia wouldn't make any sense. You could read their mind. You would most likely get signals you don't understand or maybe get pulled in with them! :)

    Henry J. Woeltjen
    B.S. Criminal Justice Administration
    MBA Student
    Blogger/Social Media Guru/Business Management Consultant
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    Apr 24 2013: My goodness life is a mystery. I think you have an interesting concept here. We go into deep conversations like this on my weekly podcast. You can check out this past weeks here. Thanks for the support and interest fellow ted watchers vimeo.com/64609057
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    Apr 24 2013: May be. Language, oral, verbal, graphic or any other sort, came to existence as means of better communication, shortly it became self or group expression that we call art.
    Will there be art in the new language?

    Whatever the answer there will always be followers of the old language shouting "We want our English back!"

    I cry when languages deserve to die...
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    Apr 23 2013: Hey Lauren,

    Your question makes me think of the MIT project Sixth Sense. It could help to shed some light on possible implications for humanity if people could read each others minds... or the minds of other stuff.

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    Apr 23 2013: Hi Lauren,

    Interesting question. It'd be really cool to be able to model the body just as we do electrical systems. This will allow us to trace through every activity and control it. However, I think it would require extensive understanding of the body as a chemical, biological as well as electrical (and any other property) object since the electrical model of the body cannot alone provide a complete understanding of the body. Also, it would be extremely difficult to test or simulate the body whereas it is really easy on regular circuits, which allows us to better model their behavior under various conditions. In any case, I think the electrical model of the body will help us better understand the body and I'm sure we will continue to make great progress, and one day we will obtain nearly complete understanding/control of the body.
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    Apr 23 2013: It is known that Central Nervous Systems Disorders, including, Alzheimer’s disease, Cerebral Palsy, Depression, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia, Spinal Paralysis and Stroke. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of Dementia, including, cognitive ability and memory failures. Also, it can be found the similar symptoms with the person who has Depression.

    Will “mind-reading technology” eventually become a reality and what are the implications for humanity?
    It is going to be extremely "good news" for the person who has clinical depression.

    Wish All In Joy & In Peace,
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    Apr 23 2013: Fair enough, but what if a. somebody's AHA is hateful of others b. AHA intrudes when we're being logical about something completely unrelated to the AHA itself? This should probably be flagged as off-topic.
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    Apr 23 2013: Hey Lauren! Awesome question. I've often thought about this myself, being a fan of science fiction and superhero stories since I was a child. The fact that we can discuss this question in a real-world setting is exciting and intriguing, to say the least.

    I think the first part of your question brings about a really interesting moral issue. Even if it is possible to "insert" memories into people's minds, I'm inclined to believe that it's entirely immoral to do so, and that the implications would be disastrous- how can we trust witnesses in a trial if this technology exists?

    The second half of your question is fascinating, for the amount of good it could do. Having a "backup file" of memories would be fantastic, however, depending on the specific disease it would correspond to, would there be a feasible way to restore memories? If a portion of the brain is damaged, no amount of electrical stimulation in replacing memories will return functionality to that part of the tissue.

    On the other hand, once this technology is widespread, all memories are suddenly suspect (is this an actual memory or a fabrication?) and so they become less important, less special. I think the implications are just as much emotional and societal as they are technological, and I think this prompt could sound like either the setup of a great dystopian novel, or a fantastic foundation of the future, depending on how we as society implement this technology.
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      Apr 23 2013: I think it is often hard to trust our own memories, and eye witnesses can be very unreliable. The notorious implanted memories from therapists is a good example. I would hope that augmented memory would be more reliable!
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        Apr 23 2013: Hi Hindi and Danger Lampost!

        I think I agree with Hindi on the dangerous implications of "back-up"able or reproducible memories. By providing access to people's memories, a new door is opened for false fabrication. For example, with every new social media site that comes up on the internet, there is a new set of hackers ready to exploit the information of its users. Likewise, the implementation of a memory "materializer" could result in those that exploit the figments of our imagination that were once personal and special. Materialization in this sense does not have to be physical. Data held in the cloud still has a "physical" form because we are still able to extract the information and modify it.

        Hindi, I LOVE your thought on how this could be the start to a dystopian society! With every new bit of knowledge we gain, we hit new forks in the road that demand the direction we wish to take our society. I completely agree that the disadvantages of mind-reading are horrifying, but the advantages could reinvent medicine, politics, education, etc in such a positive way!
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    Apr 23 2013: Brain Mapping? I approve ;) True knowledge is much more powerful than a combat bot. And if the knowledge is then used for the good of everybody with no cheating involved - even better. Give me a plane ticket and some LSD and I'm in!

    The last statement is a joke, obviously...... But still - one should not forget that narcotic visions can feel as real as actual memories, this has to be taken into account if downloading memories is to be used in a trial. Or, to look at this less categorically - downloaded memories can maybe be treated as auxiliary factors, not as only evidence, and used only if verified by independent specialists, more than one. Sorry, I'm getting a bit carried away, I guess.

    When it comes to removing bad memories - should we really? People with no bad memories have no stories to tell, few lessons to teach themselves or others. If memories are so traumatising that a person needs palliative care though, maybe it can be considered as long as we do not end up with eternal stupidity of our spotless minds... This needs good legislation, not greedy private sector. Or at least good control of the latter.

    Didn't Obama, or whoever wrote the speech, steal from John Lennon by the way? (Which is a good thing!)
    "Imagine if no family had to feel helpless watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of Parkinson's..." "Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury or PTSD..." Now this is something worth songifying ;)

    On the other hand... Before breaking the foil hats let's make sure that the people who are to break the foil hats have a free mind under their own hats...

    Peace, Avi.
  • Apr 23 2013: I believe that, in my lifetime, it will become possible to upload my self to the internet. I am unclear on whether or not this requires the death of my physical body.
    I also know that my consciousness is not contained inside of my brain.
    I have felt the movement and presence of another person without any contact, sight, or sound.
    And I also know that if I look at someone, they usually look right back at me.

    I am concerned though: what happens to me if I lose contact with the real, natural world?
    I worship my divinity in the woods, my church has nor walls or roof.
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    Apr 22 2013: Hi Lauren,

    Thank you for this interesting topic. I have some questions/issues/problems/worries that I'd like to post:

    1. Neural prosthetics, a positive development in itself, aside for a minute... Let's concentrate on the brain and brain alone... Do people with different kind of dementia want to have their memories installed back? How do you determine if they do or do not if regular contact with such patients is obviously limited? If you, by some means and methods, can determine that they do want this - which memories should you chose? One should never forget that some studies show that the mentally handicapped tend to be the happiest people on the planet, if not made aware of their handicap or otherness by cruel means of isolation or bullying... I'm referring to studies on autism and Down syndrome, but not only that, I'm also thinking about my personal observation of my 92-year-old grandmother with severe Alzheimer... She would throw herself at a pile of candy as a 5-year-old would and 10 minutes later she would... recite poems in Greek and Latin that she had to learn as a young girl at a border school in 1920's... While doing all that she seemed happy, although she did not remember or was able to recognise her children, she did not know who I was or that I was the daughter of her 9th son... Would she be happier if she could remember WWII anew? On the other hand, maybe downloading her memories would benefit historical and sociological studies. But would it benefit her to get them back?

    2. To find out whether inserting memories, reading minds or having a backup copies of memories is beneficial, you probably need to consult not only doctors, psychologists or sociologists, but also philosophers and sci-fi writers.

    Best wishes.
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      Apr 23 2013: Anna brings up some great points!

      experiments involving memory especially have a lot of gray area. Can we remove someone's bad memories if it will make them happier (PSOD?) can we download memories of a witness in a murder trial? Of course these questions arent so important until such things are possible, but as Lauren states, this technology may very well be on the horizon!
      With the Brain Mapping project proposed by President Obama, we will surely see very big advancements connected to brain activity and it will remain to be seen what the ramifications may be and how humanity responds.

      Maybe Alison is right and its time to break out the aluminum foil hats.
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      Apr 22 2013: But isn't it the widely discussed neuroplasticity that so many have been speaking of or trying to use to sell more self-help books?
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          Apr 23 2013: Oh yeah, sorry, didn't spot the link at first. I focused all of my brain's semantic space on the quote, while wondering if this is spam ;) And where my clean socks went.
          I wonder where AHA-effect fits into the findings of this research...