Nita Farahany, recently speaking at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, touted the “extraordinary promise” of the use of mind-reading devices in the workplace and elsewhere. Farahany noted that the devices, in some forms, are already here. The legal ethicist and author of “The Battle for Your Brain,” gave a talk titled “Ready for Brain Transparency?” She cited existing consumer-wearable devices such as “headbands, hats that have sensors that can pick up your brain wave activity, earbuds, headphones, tiny tattoos that you can wear behind your ear — we can pick up emotional states.” Kinda creepy if you ask me.
During a WEF “Transforming Medicine, Redefining Life” panel discussion, Farahany said that this technology will soon be integrated into “multi-functional devices,” so that-- for example-- the same earbuds used to take conference calls and listen to music would be laced with EEG sensors to pick up brain waves. The “legal ethicist” stated that it would then be possible to “pick up and decode faces that you’re seeing in your mind, simple shapes, numbers, your pin number.” What could go wrong?
Farahany predicted that in the “near-term future,” such devices will become “the primary way with which we interact with all of the rest of our technology,” and pointed out that major tech companies like Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta are already “investigating ways to make these devices universally applicable.” She claimed this would allow a person to, for example, “simply swipe with your mind” instead of with a mouse or keyboard.
Farahany stressed the potential such technology has to solve workplace problems and cited as an example truckers who can inadvertently take lives by falling asleep on the road. She noted that such tragic outcomes could be prevented if their employers provided them with a “simple wearable hat” that, via “embedded electro-sensors,” could measure brain wave activity and therefore determine “what stage of alertness the person was experiencing and whether or not they are starting to fall asleep.” She further argued that, despite the existence of driver-assist technology designed to prevent such accidents, such brain-reading wearables are necessary because they intervene “much sooner” and “much more accurately.” And, she said, “We as a society should want that.” Well, that’s debatable…at the very least.
Farahany also stated: “In over 5,000 companies across the world, employees are already having their brain activity monitored to test for their fatigue levels.”
Farahany did acknowledge that these mind-reading devices could be “the most oppressive technology” ever used at “large scale across society,” and that it is possible they could give others access to “your bank account.” No matter. On balance, she’s all for them.
Mind reading devices? Not overly personal and intrusive at all, right? What could be wrong with this technology? What could go wrong? I mean, shouldn’t your employer be entitled to know every thought that flickers in-- and floats through-- your brain? Your teacher? Spouse? (Can you say “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.?”) The government? Every tyrant in history would have loved this ability. “You are not thinking correctly! We must help you adjust your thoughts!”
And what if you were “hacked” and your thoughts altered or replaced by someone else’s? Where’s the transparency or “extraordinary promise” in that?
Bodily autonomy is a vital human right. It is even more critical that we control our own minds.
There is a battle for our brains going on. And our humanity. And our freedom.
If we don’t win this one, nothing else will matter.