What’s the scariest invention of all time? Mind-reading machines, which are – unfortunately – going from fiction to soon-to-be fact. Medically speaking, of course, the consequences are wonderful – those who are unable to articulate thought may become master communicators; babies may soon be able to explain their beverage preferences; and when a terrorist is caught and refusing to speak, his – or her – brainwaves may give them away.
Recently, Columbia University’s Mortimer B Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute used AI tech to conduct just such an experiment; it used, explains BBC, a vocoder – the same technology that’s used by the Amazon Echo and Apple’s Siri to synthesise speech and respond to commands. It’s being touted as the next big thing. And perhaps it is.
But let’s remove ourselves from this ideal situation, where somehow we’ve managed to accelerate on Maslow’s need hierarchy and go from focusing on survival to helping others realise their potential. Where we can REALLY know what the other is thinking.
First terrifying scenario: Truth and dare – the game that calls for a deep trust of the ‘honour system’ – is now defunct. Instead, one could ply others with headsets, ask any question and wait for the fall out.
Second realistic vision: politicians grab headsets before press-conferences.
Third: Firms keep one of these machines on standby – for interviews.
What would we become without the sacred boundaries of our minds to keep others out?
Honesty is often touted as the best policy – I’d like to tweak the sentence to give tact a nod. For it isn’t the ability to communicate that differentiates us from other animal folk, it’s the way we can say things without physical hurt being a given.
Take the choice away and what do you have? A petulant child let loose on society. With this new ‘super wonderful tech’? It’s a world full of impudent children, with no filter and immediate spill. What you have is the fastest route to World War III.
Does this mean we should stop the tech from taking shape? Or is humankind so noble that the misuse would never occur?
Perhaps the question should stray from this point, to ask others – would you kill one to save the many and still be able to call life precious? Whose secret is worth keeping, whose lies must be destroyed?
Is the value of a life calculated based on a position – ascribed or inherited – in society? For years, this line of thought has won – have position, will survive; will eat better, live better and in the end die better. Have less, and your life becomes expendable.
But go beyond state secrets and the rise and fall of civilizations – for that ending is perhaps a must. Think of home. What would you do…if that child or pet you loved so much you thought your heart would break turns looks at you with its great big eyes, and the attachment you’ve cradled on its head screams: GO AWAY?