SCIOPS 01.13: Neural Laces
You ever dream about work? It happened to me, every night this weekend. Even on my days off I spent eight hours at night building the object I’ll be working on this week. Now, that’s fine for me. As much as I might think about it or dream of it, physical things don’t get built unless I’m actually there moving the atoms. But for pure knowledge-workers, who get paid specifically to cogitate, that’s unpaid work hours. Twenty-four over the weekend, fifty-six a week. If you spend every night dreaming about work, you’re making less than half your nominal salary.
Okay, but just because you’re dreaming about work doesn’t mean you’re actually producing anything, right? Some people might get visions of scientific breakthroughs, but most of us just grind through the tedium and drama of the workplace only to wake up and have to do it all over again in real-time. Or there’s always the awkward forgot-my-homework type dreams, or the ones where you’re giving that presentation and suddenly find out you misplaced your pants. Is the boss really getting extra productivity out of that?
The answer might be: not YET. Scientists and data-mongers are teaming up to produce brain-computer interfaces , and one of their big goals is to scan your brain while you’re sleeping. To read your dreams.
###### [excellent video here ]
Now, dream reading is far off. There are multiple hurdles ahead: effective brain decoders still require massive fMRI machines, and brain-typing interfaces barely get 8 words per minute. But there’s big money behind this tech, and powerful people that want to get inside your skull.
Elon Musk is on it , of course. The charismatic Martian started a “medical research company” called Neuralink in 2016, dedicated to designing a “neural lace” that will eventually merge our minds with those of our friendly robot overlords. With funding reportedly also coming from Peter Thiel ( vampire king of Silicon Valley ), the future of Neuralink can’t possibly be good for regular humans. The basis of the (as yet imaginary) technology is a network of micro-electrodes injected directly by syringe into human brains . Definitely don’t sign up for the beta test, people.
Worse is the Zuck. Mark Zuckerberg, a 33-year-old tube of cured meat masquerading as a new-money supervillian, isn’t happy with invading every part of your personal and professional life. Now he wants to be even closer to you. No more snuggling cozy in your pocket. Faceboot will now be attached to your actual face , listening to your thoughts, sending you “feelings” from your “friends” and “followers”. Even the Guardian knows better than to trust the Zuck on this one:
If the thought that a company that makes almost all of its money from harvesting your personal data could also have access to your thoughts is scary, that’s because it is.
Dugan attempted to assuage people’s fears by pointing out that Facebook would only decode the words you were going to say anyway. “It’s not about decoding random thoughts,” she said. “We’re talking about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain.”
Quite how consumers would know whether the privacy of their “random thoughts” was also being violated remains be seen, but Dugan remained upbeat, describing the concept as having the “convenience of voice but the privacy of text”.
Privacy, my ass. Faceboot has a notorious history of privacy invasion, social engineering, and political meddling. In fact, before you ever hit that blue “F” again, go read this brilliant overview:
Is Facebook A Structural Threat To Free Society? - truthhawk.com
As cogsec practitioners, we need to do more than just avoid the neural dragnet. Yes, we must fight for the new human rights of cognitive liberty, mental privacy, mental integrity and psychological continuity. But we must also play a step ahead of the silicon priests: we need to build encryption for our own thoughts.
Encrypting thoughts is harder than it sounds. It’s hard enough to keep secrets by keeping your mouth shut, or share secrets by using encrypted messenger apps . What of mind-reading machines? How can we encode our thoughts in a way that can only be read by our own minds?
Fortunately, the brain researchers have already given us a hint.
The subjective nature of dreaming makes it a challenge to extract further information, says Kamitani. “When I think of my dream contents, I have the feeling I’m seeing something,” he says. But dreams may engage more than just the brain’s visual realm, and involve areas for which it’s harder to build reliable models.
Dreams are already thought to have very personal symbolism – despite what the vendors of “dream dictionaries” would have you believe. Maybe all we need to do to encrypt our minds is develop a strong sense of our own personal dream-imagery. It could become an internal messenger app, one that transmits information from Past Self to Future Self in a way that can’t be decoded by others.
That’s it for this week – got to go build that dream-object. What unique dreams do you have? Would you attach your mind to the internet? You can tell me what you think by replying to this email. I’ll leave you with this:
###### Futuristic jackboots have “neural laces” to stamp on a human face forever
And yes, Faceboot.com does go where you think it does.
Thanks for reading,
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