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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: something I often think about is how we are all different ,make different and unique associations and how our thought processes are not all the same
    The differences ,facts like these and facts they are - are deliberately played down so we can be categorised and labeled and treated as a crowd ,- feel unified ,gain a sense of belonging etc
    Mind reading machines whilst being able to interpret the physical impulses to body parts- wouldn't be able to read much more complex patterns and thoughts without being tailor made and then are very unlikely to be mass produced
    No matter how many government experts jump out of the woodwork trying desperately to convince you that voice readers ,lie detectors and all the other devices they have can read thoughts ,I personally think not.. It just benefits the system to make you think so.
    If our thoughts could be backed up on some sort of storage device We would no longer be human So i think itd be very detrimental not at all beneficial to humanity basically making them androids
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      Apr 19 2013: Hi Adam,
      thanks for you contribution to the conversation. Our minds and thought processes are extremely unique and it's probably almost impossible for any two people to have the exact thought processes, because it is so dependent upon context - see Mitch Smith's comment below for more about this.
      and I think you're right that if our minds could be backed up it might very well completely change the very nature of humans. This leads us to wonder, what exactly is our minds and is there really ever a way to concratize our minds?

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