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Will Telepathic Computers be Able to Read Our Minds?

Updated on November 10, 2014
Are telepathic computers in our future?
Are telepathic computers in our future? | Source

Telepathic computers are in our future. It may sound like science fiction, but it's fact. The number of amazing recent advances made by the military and the neuroscientific community make this prediction a safe one. The pentagon is developing synthetic telepathy technology in which soldiers will be able to communicate with each other telepathically on the battlefield. Neuroscientists are conducting many studies in which computers are reading and analyzing the thoughts of the test subjects, and translating these thoughts into words or images.

Soldiers will be able to communicate telepathically
Soldiers will be able to communicate telepathically | Source

DARPA and Synthetic Telepathy

For years conspiracy theorists have maintained that the government has computers that can read our minds and project thoughts into our brains. The reality is that the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has been funding an area of research called Synthetic Telepathy since 1988 at theUniversity of Irvine in California in conjunction with labs in Maryland and Philadelphia. There is also an Army funded project underway at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center at Albany Medical College. These projects are exploring ways to have a computer interpret the EEG signals that the brain emits, and then to transmit those thoughts to an intended target. This would enable soldiers to communicate more effectively with each other on the battlefield. An April 8, 2012 article in Discover Magazine announced that soldiers would wear helmets with electrodes to accomplish the telepathy. The electrodes would pick up code words and transmit them back to a computer. The computer would then relay the code words to soldiers in the field. The pentagon has projected that this technology will be ready in 2017. So far there is a 45% accuracy rate in correctly identifying the code words that the test subject is thinking of (such as 'safe to move forward' or 'enemy ahead'). It's expected that that accuracy will increase rapidly as the project advances.

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The iBrain

Many neuroscientists are trying to find ways to help patients that have lost their ability to communicate due to disease or stroke. In fact Stephen Hawkins, an ALS victim, is helping out in this effort by wearing a headband that transmits his thoughts to a computer. The band, called the iBrain, is designed by the SanDiego based company NeuroVigil. The iBrain picks up brain waves through electrodes and sends them wirelessly to a computer which analyzes them through use of NeuroVigil's SPEARS algorithm. The hope is that these brain signals can be mapped out into recognizable patterns that can then be identied and translated into words. In April, 2012, Hawking and Dr. Philip Low, iBrain's inventer, presented their findings at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference in Cambridge. It was reported that Hawkins was able to successfully generate readable brain wave patterns when thinking about moving various parts of his body. Hawkins will continue to work with Low on this project, and these studies will also be continued with other ALS patients. Many scientists feel that this technology shows great promise, and that eventually it will lead to computers translating thoughts into speech.

A Machine That Can Read Speech

Brian Parsley from University of California Berkeley carried out an experiment dealing with 15 people having surgery for epilepsy. The subjects had electrodes implanted in the area of the brain that's involved in processing sound – the middle temporal gyri. Parsley's team presented a series of spoken words and the electrodes recorded the neural activity of the subjects as they heard the words. The team was able to decode the neural activity and correlate it to various aspects of speech. They then created a graphical representation of sound (a spectogram) that they could turn into audible speech (follow this link to see the amazing video). They hope to eventually find evidence that thinking words would produce activity similar to that produced in the brain when it hears words. Then a persons thoughts could be turned into speech, something that would free up those that are cut off from the world because of loss of speech.

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Telepathy using fMRI

The functional Magnetic Resonance Imagining machine (fMRI) is a brain and body scanning device that is being used to map out brain patterns. An fMRI machine is being used by Doctor Belinda Lewis of Cambridge University to study bipolar disorder. She's discovered that when shown emotionally charged images, bipolar patients are excessively stimulated and less able to process the information accurately. Such studies mapping brain waves with mental disorders will make the diagnosis of autism, bipolar disorder, shizophrenia more accurate, and make the field of psychology more science based.

Professor Jack Gallant's lab at Berkley California has also been using an fMRI machine to record what people are experiencing visually. He has been able to show images to a subject, then decode the subject's fMRI data and play the decoded images back like a movie. So far, this technology can only reconstruct what people have actually seen, but it's not a far leap to think that eventually it could play back visions of what a person is thinking, or playing back memories or dreams.

Results of Studies at Jack Gallant's Lab

Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging is another leading pioneer in fMRIs technology and a leader in mapping out how the brain processes information. He won the Society for Text and Discourse Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in July, 2012 for outstanding scientific contributions to the study of discourse processing and text analysis. He has shown test subjects images while they are in an fMRI. The subects then thought about the images for a few seconds. A computer was then able to process the information and correctly identify the words that the subjects were thinking of. The video below shows this amazing experiment.

Video on Mind Reading fMRI

fMRI Technology Allows Communication With Man in Vegetative State

The University of Western Ontario has successfully used an fMRI to determine "Yes" and "No" answers to questions. In a groundbreaking study "The Brain's Silent Messenger: Using Selective Attention to Decode Human Thought for Brain-Based Communication", they successfully decoded "yes" and "no" responses to questions such as "Are you married?", or "Do you have brothers or sisters?". These findings allowed them to communicate with a man who had been in a vegetative state for more than a decade. Although he was thought to be completely unresponsive, he answered "yes" or "no" to questions that only he could know the answers to.

This amazing technology will change the way that such patients are treated, and will greatly improve the quality of their lives. It is hoped that this technology will become cheap and portable enough to aid home-bound patients.

Ethics Anyone?

Given that these technologies are advancing quickly, shouldn't we be developing rules of ethics to keep this technology from running wild? Although it can be a great blessing to society, it can also be greatly abused. Already there is a case in Maryland where an fMRI scan is being used in a court case. A device called the P300 can perform a "guilty knowledge test" that detects a particular brain wave if the subject has knowledge of an event. Even advertising agencies are looking into this technology. Once the capability exists to read minds through remote devices, what's to prevent malicious agencies or governments from misusing the technology against an unsuspecting public or against an enemy? And once thought patterns are completely mapped out, what's to prevent these agencies from developing a computer capable of transmitting thoughts and feelings to an unknowing population? There is a great need for governments, the scientific community, and the BCI (Brain Computer Interface) industry to develop standards for this rapidly developing technology before it becomes a threat to the privacy of our thoughts - one of our deepest and most fundamental rights.

© 2013 Margaret Perrottet

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    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 2 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Randy - thanks so much for reading, commenting and voting. I really think that with all the advances in technology such as this there needs to be an ethics committee set up to oversee how things unfold.

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      Randy Hirneisen 2 years ago from Philadelphia

      Very interesting hub. I didn't know they were working on telepathy software and gadgets. Could be a bit frightening depending on they use it. Thanks for the great hub and info. I voted you up.

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Barbara - This technology could be such a wonderful thing, and I think it will help so many people. However, as you said, man has a talent for misusing things, and you can imagine how potentially dangerous this could be as well. Thanks for taking the time to read, comment, and thanks for the pin.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Au fait - thanks for revisiting this. You can be sure I'll continue to write about science because these developments are fascinating to me.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 4 years ago from USA

      This is amazing and would help a lot of people. Just so it isn't misued at some point. Man seems to have a talent for that. Thanks for all the info.

      I'm pinning this.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      This is another of my favorites of your hubs. I hope you continue to write about science because you do it so well and I enjoy reading about the cutting edge of science. Pinning this hub to my "Science" board on Pinterest and sharing it again with my followers!

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Deborah-Diane - I've seen that too - absolutely amazing, isn't it? Thanks so much for reading, commenting and voting - I really appreciate it.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Awesome article. I have read that there are already computers that can read the mind of a paraplegic and move an artificial hand for them. I find this amazing! Great article. Voted up!

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Aunt Jimi - I agree - there really needs to be an ethics panel set up for such technologies, since the potential for misuse is so great. The other side is that the potential for good uses of technology is so enormous. Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      JayeWisdom - Interesting question about the subconscious, and I have to say that I hate to think that our thoughts while under the influence are our "true" thoughts. Thanks so much for reading, and for such an interesting comment - it's much appreciated!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Margaret--This is an intriguing article about amazing technology (at least, it's amazing to me). I agree that any technology powerful enough to "invade" thoughts holds the potential for misuse, and ethical standards should be established. Some people (and countries) do not allow ethics to stand in their way if there is power or profit to be gained unethically.

      If some scientists don't believe there is a subconscious, how would they then view thoughts generated by someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs--that the lack of inhibition caused by intoxication or being "high" provides true thought? There are so many aspects to consider when infiltrating the brains of humans, and the possibilities for abuse are frightening.

      Voted Up+++

      Jaye

    • Aunt Jimi profile image

      Aunt Jimi 4 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

      Very interesting subject. My concern is how will this technology be used -- or abused? People need to keep on top of this because it will affect everyone for good or not so good. Voting up and more. Also sharing.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Paul - From what I can see, it's not all that far away, and I think that it's important that some ethical rules are put into place to prevent the misuse of this technology. Thanks so much for reading, voting and especially for sharing, pinning and tweeting - it's much appreciated!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      mperrottet,

      This is an awesome, well-researched hub. In the past few years students and I have been reading about computers which can read minds in our English classes. I always thought this technology was 20-30 years away until reading this hub and viewing your video. If this technology is put to bad use, it really will be easy for the state to control us. Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning and Tweeting

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Au fait - Thanks so much for sharing this again. I really enjoyed writing this hub, and so glad that you liked it.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      This is one of my favorites of your hubs. I think the time is closer than people may realize when the things discussed here (and more) will be possible. Everyone should read this hub and think about it and discuss what this may mean for people. Will share again.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      midget38 - The possibilities do seem limitless, don't they? Thanks so much for reading and passing on!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      WIth the advancement of science, anything is possible, mperrotet! Computers make anything possible. Thanks for sharing this interesting write which I pass on.

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      pagesvoice - having worked in the computer industry for many years, I saw so many changes, and what's ahead will be even more astounding. So glad you stopped by. Thanks for commenting and voting - it's greatly appreciated.

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      Dennis L. Page 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Voted up and across. I remember back in the mid 70s a programmer neighbor who had a frame up with wires depicting memory from a few year to computer memory of that time. The difference was striking, even way back then. Now the new Galaxy phone can tell when your eye has moved away and it pauses a movie you may be watching. Technology is now moving at lightening speed and to think, I still have a flip phone.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      torrilynn - I agree with you - technology is moving so fast, and society isn't prepared for the impact it will have. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and thanks so much for sharing.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Peggy - Yes, these technologies are really a double edged sword, and let's hope that they're never misused. Thanks for reading, and especially for sharing - always good to hear from you.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      this is a scary thought. i believe that technology is advancing at quite a speed to which that we will no longer have the ability to control it. anyhow, i do value your viewpoints and the information that you have presented in this hub. i figure it is just another way for the government to have control over us. thanks for this hub. Voted up and shared.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Margaret,

      This is wonderful with regard to medical aspects but also frightening with regard to how it could be misused for malicious intents. This is a brave new world indeed! UUI votes and will share.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Au fait - Yes, we certainly need to establish some rules and regulations regarding this technology. It's so promising, and yet so frightening. Thanks so very much for reading and sharing - greatly appreciated!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      I read another hub just this morning on this same subject where rats are being used in an experiment to basically 'mind-meld' their thoughts from one to the other, the rats being on 2 different continents. All very interesting and will hopefully lead to solutions for lots of people.

      My concern is for the ways this technology might be abused. Are we on the brink of a world where thought police really exist? Will people be labeled and put into specialized programs as a result of their thoughts? Will their movement (where they can go or not go, live or not live) be restricted so they can be monitored more closely?

      Agree that ethical questions need to be answered and guidelines established for what is acceptable use of this technology and with specific legal remedies for anyone who is victimized.

      Great presentation and research! Voted up, interesting, and will share!

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      tillsontitan - Glad you found this interesting. Yes, the advances are awesome and somewhat frightening. There is definitely a need for ethics to be developed in these areas. Thanks so very much for voting and sharing.

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      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      The human mind and the discoveries and creations it has come up with are "mind" boggling. Technology just continues to grow and multiply! This was a fascinating piece mperrottet. Let's hope ethics continues in science or we could be in for a very rough ride here!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and very interesting.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Hezekiah - The technology that NeuroVigil is working on with Stephen Hawking is dealing more with interpreting intent, and I believe some of the other studies are as well. Many of these scientists don't think that there is a subconscious, and that whatever you fell, think or intend is shown by the chemicals and electronic impulses in your brain. Thanks so very much for reading and commenting - I really appreciate it.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      rajan jolly - I also hope that these technologies will be not be misused. It could be such a blessing to those who can't communicate because of stroke or disease. Thanks so much for voting and sharing.

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 4 years ago from Japan

      Nice hub. I guess that a device would be needed to amplify the signals from your brain in order for a computer to recognize or interpret. However even if a computer could read our minds it would have problems differentiating between intended thoughts, and subconscious feelings. Therefore not able to directly know what the patients intentions really are.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I don't think there is a limit to possibilities. These advanced technologies will be more a blessing than a curse I hope.

      Great hub. Voted up and shared.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      pstraubie48 - You're right - this certainly is a time when things that were once thought impossible are coming to pass. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment - I really appreciate it.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      I will never say never about any possibility that may occur. There may have been a time when I might have but so many amazing things have happened that I am more prone to think that most things lie within the realm of possible.

      Great job. Thanks for sharing.

      Sending Angels to you this afternoon. :) ps

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Oh, I don't think so , Bill - if your thoughts are even remotely as interesting as your writing, they'd be pretty fascinating. Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting - always so good to hear from you!

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It wouldn't surprise me if they are able to at some point but boy oh boy, are they ever going to be bored reading mine. :) Nice research on this one.