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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 20 2013: I think you sort of answered your own question, yes there could be.
    However morally we do not have the right to use that technology in most if not all circumstances. This is on the same level as growing a new human hybrid species in a lab, it is a taboo to program people's minds or read their most private thoughts..

    If you ever seen this :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeboqg4t9vs
    A science fiction reality in which all humans are forced into a collective mind link, their thoughts altered to reflect some kind of standard, I think what emerges is losing our Humanity.

    A path to say that all emotions are imbalance and need to be cured.
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      Apr 21 2013: Hi Uri,
      thanks for your contribution to the conversation. I don't know if we'd lost humanity - but I think the proper term is lose our individual identities and personalities. Unless you're saying that what defines humanity is each human's individuality.
      I think you bring up a good point about reading minds being comparable to cloning/growing a human. Both situations imply a sort of loss of the natural order, and involve a situation where one person gets to control the output of another. Very interesting comparison.

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