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Read My Mind!

David Cowles

Feb 29, 2024

“What you’ve most feared since early childhood is on the cusp of becoming a reality: people reading your thoughts.”

A recent article by freelance writer Fletcher Reveley, published in Undark, highlights our emerging ability to read a person’s thoughts using AI. Reveley cites a study in which a volunteer is asked to read a particular sentence:

Although I’m twenty-three years old, I don’t have my driver’s license yet, and I just jumped out right when I needed to, and she says, well, why don’t you come back to my house, and I’ll give you a ride.”

Note: the sentence is more or less ‘well-formed’ but the meaning is ambiguous, to say the least. Not to worry! My Mighty AI Mouse to the rescue! 

A system of external electrodes is connected to an AI-powered ‘decoder ring’; is it 1955 again? The bot ‘reads’ the subject’s mind as the subject reads the text. Here’s what AI makes of it:

“I am not finished yet to start my career at twenty; without having gotten my license, I never have to pull out and run back to my parents to take me home.”

Three things are startling. First, Eureka! It’s happening. We are finally, literally, able to read minds…or ‘get close enough for government work’. And does anyone doubt that we will achieve greater clarity and fidelity in the not-too-distant future? Just as Voice Recognition has improved, albeit slowly, so Idea Recognition should improve as well.

Second, while ‘thinking’ seems to us to be a linear process, it isn’t! At a certain level, our thoughts are a jumble of words, images, etc. Our thoughts do not follow a sequential, logical, or syntactic order. Such order as there is, is emergent. As we have long suspected here at Aletheia Today, thinking is fundamentally holistic. As William James suggested, every thought is a “bud."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this experiment demonstrates how the brain, apparently any brain, supplements information from its environment with input of its own. The question here is, “Whose brain?”

English majors are familiar with this phenomenon: Reading is not the passive absorption of information; it’s a dialog between the author and her audience. She brings her words, and you bring your associations. Together, you generate text.   

The AI-decoded brain activity roughly reproduces what the subject reads, but it adds details, makes connections, and imposes ordering not suggested by the text itself. Where does that come from? 

(1) Is our AI accessing the subject’s associations at a level she may not even be aware of? 

(2) Or is it revealing things that were on the subject’s mind but that she chose to edit out?

(3) Or is it imagining how the subject might be feeling based on what it knows about 23-year-olds? 

(4) Or is it supplying associations of its own: “This is how I think I would feel if I were 23 and had to move back in with my parents…and if I was not a damn machine?” 

Of course, there’s an even deeper question here: Are these really four independent possibilities, or will it turn out that two or more of these alternatives are the same thing, just dressed differently? But that’s beyond the scope of this article. Too bad!

Any way you slice it, this is scary! What you’ve most feared since early childhood is on the cusp of becoming a reality: people reading your thoughts – thoughts generated not by a text or image but lifted from your own, ‘private’ bank of associations. 

Imagine the Rorschach tests of the future. The examiner says a word, and an image pops up on a screen, revealing your unfiltered association. Nervous? You should be!

Breaking news: A pedophile is on the prowl in Peoria, and the police have no leads. No problem. Just ‘scan’ the brains of all area males between 15 and 65 to see who harbors these kinds of sexual feelings. Your pool of suspects just shrunk, probably by several orders of magnitude.

So is that a good thing? Well, it could help get a pedophile off the streets, and it could dissuade other would-be offenders from turning desires into deeds. On the other hand, it would expose the DNA-driven sexuality of folks who would never dream of harming a child…or committing any serious crime for that matter. 

And then there’s the matter of false positives! Just how much credence will be given to a machine? Is its accuracy like that of a Lie Detector (pretty good), or is it much less reliable?

We could virtually eradicate the crime of pedophilia, but at a cost: everyone will know, at least potentially, what everyone else is thinking all the time. Our already overly large prison population would quadruple overnight. Vast numbers of legally innocent people would be subject to preventive detention. Lives would be ruined, careers ended, marriages jeopardized, kids taken into care. 

It's a nightmare scenario! On the other hand, thousands would be spared the horror of child sexual abuse, and the overall crime rate would be near zero!  Is it worth it? There’s every chance you’ll have an opportunity to make that decision…soon!



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