It's tin foil hat time: mind-reading technology is closer than ever


For every business, the most important thing is getting as close as possible to their customers. Already, organisations are harvesting whatever data they can to get to know their consumers better. They want to know the answers to specific questions: how do customers interact with their brand? What do customers expect from their products and services? In a nutshell, what are their customers thinking?

Basically, businesses want to be mind readers. Although the goal is somewhat invasive, it's something that we've more or less become accustomed to. For example, how many times have you had a chitchat by the water cooler about your colleague's trip to Bali, only to get an eerie Facebook ad featuring Balinese hotels later that day?

Well, it's time to start cleansing our thoughts because businesses are about to get a whole lot more intrusive. Thanks to artificial intelligence (or perhaps no thanks, we're still deciding), mind-reading technology is more tangible than ever before.

BCI in business

When we talk about mind-reading technology, we're actually referring to brain-computer interfaces (BCI). BCI systems translate brain signals into commands to carry out certain actions. Most often, we see BCI in clinical applications or in prosthetics, as a way of substituting or increasing a person's motor or communications skills.

Since AI was thrown into the research mix, progress in the BCI field has advanced significantly. In March of 2020, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, created a mind-reading device that turns brain activity into text. The study shows great potential of how BCI and AI can work together to aid those who are suffering from "locked in" syndrome.

While the introduction of AI has proven to be a giant step forward in clinical care and healthcare, it has also paved the way for experimentation in the business arena. In fact, Big Tech and numerous startups have already got the ball rolling on their BCI initiatives. One notable example is Facebook, which is working to create a viable system that can type 100 words per minute straight from your brain. The social media giant is hoping to equip users with a kind of wearable BCI that enables them to simply type with their minds.

Elsewhere, Elon Musk (of course) is working on his BCI venture, Neuralink. In particular, the billionaire entrepreneur is seeking to merge humankind and machines to, in his true doom-monger style, stop humans getting 'left behind' in the rise of AI.

With mind-reading technology fever spreading across Silicon Valley (picking up startups elsewhere along the way), development is quickly escalating. However, there is no need for tin foil hats (just yet).

Should we be scared?

Sort of. There's good news, and there's bad news.

The good? Well, none of the business BCI initiatives – at least, those we are aware of – are looking to extract your thoughts without you knowing. On the contrary, most Big Tech BCI endeavours are clear in that they require consent before you can give them commands.

In fact, the 'commands' are even more to the point: Facebook, Neuralink, and many others are seeking to create BCI/AI innovations that will be of assistance to users, above anything else. In other words, the BCI is primarily being made available for the user's convenience. Of course, the business behind it can certainly extract your data, but they do this with or without mind-reading technology anyway.

The bad news is that currently, there are no proper regulations surrounding mind-reading technologies. Immediately, the ideas behind it raise red flags in terms of our privacy, and unfortunately, there is no law to stop businesses from spying on our brains.

Hopefully, regulators will be able to catch up in time before any of the initiatives come to fruition. However, the ethics in AI arena is somewhat a minefield, and regulating this it is notoriously challenging. Once you throw privacy and mind-reading in the mix – well, put it this way: I'm glad it's not my job.

Next, find out how Fivetran became Dublin's latest tech unicorn!