When technology can read minds, how will we protect our privacy? | Nita Farahany

When technology can read minds, how will we protect our privacy? | Nita Farahany


In the months following
the 2009 presidential election in Iran, protests erupted across the country. The Iranian government
violently suppressed what came to be known
as the Iranian Green Movement, even blocking mobile signals to cut off communication
between the protesters. My parents, who emigrated
to the United States in the late 1960s, spend substantial time there, where all of my large,
extended family live. When I would call my family in Tehran during some of the most violent
crackdowns of the protest, none of them dared discuss
with me what was happening. They or I knew to quickly steer
the conversation to other topics. All of us understood
what the consequences could be of a perceived dissident action. But I still wish I could have known
what they were thinking or what they were feeling. What if I could have? Or more frighteningly, what if the Iranian government could have? Would they have arrested them
based on what their brains revealed? That day may be closer than you think. With our growing capabilities
in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and machine learning, we may soon know a lot more
of what’s happening in the human brain. As a bioethicist, a lawyer, a philosopher and an Iranian-American, I’m deeply concerned
about what this means for our freedoms and what kinds of protections we need. I believe we need
a right to cognitive liberty, as a human right
that needs to be protected. If not, our freedom of thought, access and control over our own brains and our mental privacy will be threatened. Consider this: the average person thinks
thousands of thoughts each day. As a thought takes form, like a math calculation
or a number, a word, neurons are interacting in the brain, creating a miniscule electrical discharge. When you have a dominant
mental state, like relaxation, hundreds and thousands of neurons
are firing in the brain, creating concurrent electrical discharges
in characteristic patterns that can be measured
with electroencephalography, or EEG. In fact, that’s what
you’re seeing right now. You’re seeing my brain activity
that was recorded in real time with a simple device
that was worn on my head. What you’re seeing is my brain activity
when I was relaxed and curious. To share this information with you, I wore one of the early
consumer-based EEG devices like this one, which recorded the electrical
activity in my brain in real time. It’s not unlike the fitness trackers
that some of you may be wearing to measure your heart rate
or the steps that you’ve taken, or even your sleep activity. It’s hardly the most sophisticated
neuroimaging technique on the market. But it’s already the most portable and the most likely to impact
our everyday lives. This is extraordinary. Through a simple, wearable device, we can literally see
inside the human brain and learn aspects of our mental landscape
without ever uttering a word. While we can’t reliably decode
complex thoughts just yet, we can already gauge a person’s mood, and with the help
of artificial intelligence, we can even decode
some single-digit numbers or shapes or simple words
that a person is thinking or hearing, or seeing. Despite some inherent limitations in EEG, I think it’s safe to say
that with our advances in technology, more and more of what’s happening
in the human brain can and will be decoded over time. Already, using one of these devices, an epileptic can know
they’re going to have an epileptic seizure before it happens. A paraplegic can type on a computer
with their thoughts alone. A US-based company has developed
a technology to embed these sensors into the headrest of automobilies so they can track driver concentration, distraction and cognitive load
while driving. Nissan, insurance companies
and AAA have all taken note. You could even watch this
choose-your-own-adventure movie “The Moment,” which, with an EEG headset, changes the movie
based on your brain-based reactions, giving you a different ending
every time your attention wanes. This may all sound great, and as a bioethicist, I am a huge proponent of empowering people to take charge of their own
health and well-being by giving them access
to information about themselves, including this incredible
new brain-decoding technology. But I worry. I worry that we will voluntarily
or involuntarily give up our last bastion of freedom,
our mental privacy. That we will trade our brain activity for rebates or discounts on insurance, or free access
to social-media accounts … or even to keep our jobs. In fact, in China, the train drivers on
the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail, the busiest of its kind in the world, are required to wear EEG devices to monitor their brain activity
while driving. According to some news sources, in government-run factories in China, the workers are required to wear
EEG sensors to monitor their productivity and their emotional state at work. Workers are even sent home if their brains show less-than-stellar
concentration on their jobs, or emotional agitation. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we’re headed to a world
of brain transparency. And I don’t think people understand
that that could change everything. Everything from our definitions
of data privacy to our laws, to our ideas about freedom. In fact, in my lab at Duke University, we recently conducted a nationwide study
in the United States to see if people appreciated the sensitivity
of their brain information. We asked people to rate
their perceived sensitivity of 33 different kinds of information, from their social security numbers to the content
of their phone conversations, their relationship history, their emotions, their anxiety, the mental images in their mind and the thoughts in their mind. Shockingly, people rated their social
security number as far more sensitive than any other kind of information, including their brain data. I think this is because
people don’t yet understand or believe the implications
of this new brain-decoding technology. After all, if we can know
the inner workings of the human brain, our social security numbers
are the least of our worries. (Laughter) Think about it. In a world of total brain transparency, who would dare have
a politically dissident thought? Or a creative one? I worry that people will self-censor in fear of being ostracized by society, or that people will lose their jobs
because of their waning attention or emotional instability, or because they’re contemplating
collective action against their employers. That coming out
will no longer be an option, because people’s brains will long ago
have revealed their sexual orientation, their political ideology or their religious preferences, well before they were ready
to consciously share that information with other people. I worry about the ability of our laws
to keep up with technological change. Take the First Amendment
of the US Constitution, which protects freedom of speech. Does it also protect freedom of thought? And if so, does that mean that we’re free
to alter our thoughts however we want? Or can the government or society tell us
what we can do with our own brains? Can the NSA spy on our brains
using these new mobile devices? Can the companies that collect
the brain data through their applications sell this information to third parties? Right now, no laws prevent them
from doing so. It could be even more problematic in countries that don’t share
the same freedoms enjoyed by people in the United States. What would’ve happened during
the Iranian Green Movement if the government had been
monitoring my family’s brain activity, and had believed them
to be sympathetic to the protesters? Is it so far-fetched to imagine a society in which people are arrested
based on their thoughts of committing a crime, like in the science-fiction
dystopian society in “Minority Report.” Already, in the United States, in Indiana, an 18-year-old was charged
with attempting to intimidate his school by posting a video of himself
shooting people in the hallways … Except the people were zombies and the video was of him playing
an augmented-reality video game, all interpreted to be a mental projection
of his subjective intent. This is exactly why our brains
need special protection. If our brains are just as subject
to data tracking and aggregation as our financial records and transactions, if our brains can be hacked
and tracked like our online activities, our mobile phones and applications, then we’re on the brink of a dangerous
threat to our collective humanity. Before you panic, I believe that there are solutions
to these concerns, but we have to start by focusing
on the right things. When it comes to privacy
protections in general, I think we’re fighting a losing battle by trying to restrict
the flow of information. Instead, we should be focusing
on securing rights and remedies against the misuse of our information. If people had the right to decide
how their information was shared, and more importantly, have legal redress if their information
was misused against them, say to discriminate against them
in an employment setting or in health care or education, this would go a long way to build trust. In fact, in some instances, we want to be sharing more
of our personal information. Studying aggregated information
can tell us so much about our health and our well-being, but to be able to safely share
our information, we need special protections
for mental privacy. This is why we need
a right to cognitive liberty. This right would secure for us
our freedom of thought and rumination, our freedom of self-determination, and it would insure that we have
the right to consent to or refuse access and alteration
of our brains by others. This right could be recognized as part of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, which has established mechanisms for the enforcement
of these kinds of social rights. During the Iranian Green Movement, the protesters used the internet
and good old-fashioned word of mouth to coordinate their marches. And some of the most oppressive
restrictions in Iran were lifted as a result. But what if the Iranian government
had used brain surveillance to detect and prevent the protest? Would the world have ever heard
the protesters’ cries? The time has come for us to call
for a cognitive liberty revolution. To make sure that we responsibly
advance technology that could enable us to embrace the future while fiercely protecting all of us
from any person, company or government that attempts to unlawfully access
or alter our innermost lives. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “When technology can read minds, how will we protect our privacy? | Nita Farahany”

  1. "Securing Rights" means NOTHING when the government uses illegal means to violate those Rights. See Edward Snowden if you want proof.

  2. I'm almost glad that I'm so old I won't see it in my lifetime… But I worry for my nieces and nephews and their kids, and their kids… I don't have any of my own to worry about, blessing or curse?

  3. If the government had access to my brain activity food would occupy about two thirds of it lol and keeping warm in the winter . There'd be a hemisphere carved out for my Chihuahua pups and embarrassing things like farting . They'd probably be board out of there skulls or hungry .

  4. I like how this lady’s only solution is to make new laws protecting our rights… woman, the government and big business don’t follow the laws that are currently in place now, what makes you think they would follow these new ones?? 🤦‍♀️

  5. Imagine a society in which people are arrested based on their thoughts committing a crime? If so, I think I will die in prison, lol
    Some jobs do require employers to wear EEG devices or apply new brain-decoding technology. However, brain transparency to normal people> No, just like being naked walking on the street,

  6. I don't think technology will ever do that. I think you will be able to control tech with your mind but why would you ever let it read your mind.

  7. People already self censor, but this would be so awful. And then they’ll come at you at night, when you’re dreaming. I’m so glad I’m no longer young. I have no hope for neural privacy while the right to privacy is already disregarded by governments and big companies. Why would they treat my brain patterns any differently?

  8. well for me it's gonna be a disaster for human being where is freedom here !!!! this technology will cause the destruction of society 😐

  9. even though edward snoden show the world the extent of state surveillance that is happening RIGHT NOW, people are still indifferent about it, just this week the scandals regarding facebook and google..etc shows how deep this issue is. So yeah the second a non invasive way of doing that at a massive scale is developed a huge shift in society will happen, social classes will be way too obvious then they were ever, and more dictatorial regimes will appear as a consequence.

  10. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that
    it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against… We're after power
    and we mean it… There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power
    any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when
    there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many
    things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without
    breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there
    in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be
    observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a
    nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the
    system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll
    be much easier to deal with.

    Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

  11. I must say it is embarrassing that people are getting terrified by the new technology that may lead to reading of minds, when in reality we should be fearing The Creator of the universe who is able to read the minds of all human beings, and is actually interested in his creations thoughts and what they choose to think.
    We all have negative thoughts going through our mind here and there, but the questions is how do we respond to it.
    I have come to learn that there is a remedy for our defect, and not many of you would agree, The Torah of God in other words The Instructions of God is a remedy for all the many evil thoughts and all the many questions that are going on in peoples consciousness, sub-consciousness and life. It takes effort to achieve that level to be able to understand what I am talking about, but it is not to late.
    Here is a link where you can start getting some information of this Creator and his instructions.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTvE3inFOgE

    Shalom

  12. Being able to understand another persons thoughts could lead to a level of empathy we have never seen before. But instead we only fear being ostracized for thoughts. Culture and Society needs to improve, cause it is not ready to handle this technology.

  13. This TED video was really interesting. I am really scared that our thoughts and brain activity will be shared without our consent😨 in the future.

  14. I am a Psychologist by my former training and currently studying Software Development in the intent of developing AI in the future, so I am at the forefront of this topic. My goal is to create human like programs that will assist hospitals, nurses, doctors, psychologists, even every day people. Helping with diagnostics, providing tools for health professionals and even socializing with lonely people from all walks of life.

    Do I worry about these problems? Absolutely. Her speech is on point and I am glad she is doing this kind of work. It is a real threat to human liberty and we do need to be careful with what liberties we allow to different entities. I firmly believe that we need to update our policies, laws and our cultural and social ideas about the nature of freedom and what it means in this ever technologically advanced and information exchanging world.

  15. What I hate most is when people are ok with losing privacy but fail to empathise and respect others wishes to not lose privacy

  16. Who needs mind reading technology, just give everyone access to social media like YouTube and everyone will willingly spill their guts into the comments.

  17. Our thoughts are not hacker proof… It is tough to stop these type of machines once they get in to our minds. AI and Quantum computing is the last innovation of humans.

  18. Instead of talking ethics, why don't you create useful technology that help mankind, like the handicap etc..What you pointed out are just some misuse and that's about it

  19. I agree with the idea of cognitive rights, but the wording shows this speaker needs a paradigm shift. We have the right to our own cognition. We have it; it does not need to be given. The question is, do we need to do something to protect it?

  20. "Who would dare have a politically dissident thought?"

    I dunno about you guys, but I'm rarely in control of my own thoughts. Y'know, unless I"m focusing on something specifically. The government that punishes thoughts is not going to last very long at all.

  21. maybe this is one step closer to to not needing our old gods and becoming a peaceful ish society, after the rebellions ofcourse, then we could as a singular race easily expand out of our world without trivialities of religion or conspiracy to over throw a working government

  22. Nice woman, Intelligent Bio-Ethicist, Lawyer. THEY CAN READ OUR MINDS says this TARGETED INDIVIDUAL.
    See Dr Barrie Trower, Dr. Robert Duncan, Dr John Hall, Dr Katherine Horton, Dr Eric Karlstrom, etc.

  23. We need a process other than Terms of Conditions. I remember reading the Terms of conditions from some apps and I disagreed with their permissions and conditions, but I had to download and accepted them, because otherwise, I would had fail my class or be fired from my job. WE NEED A NEW WAY TO USE APPS WITHOUT ACCEPTING TERMS OF CONDITIONS MOST PEOPLE DON'T READ.

  24. We need drugs working on brain health far more than brain connectivity. let me help: Signal One: Cure is a better C word than Connected.

  25. i see no problem with a machine reading my mind to, for example showing me a video i need to see or answering a question i have had earlier, the problem would be for the most part gossip, and the learning process of trial and error. Hairline triggers, such as paranoia and panic may also create senarios that are unfavorable.

  26. Don't be a selfish greedy inconsiderate p.o.s. and don't use this tech as a weapon against anyone. Very simple and absolutely no chance of it. Privacy is a thought, like religion, believe in it or don't. It's not about what will we do, it's about what have we done and most importantly, what are we doing now. I believe this, and this technology can confirm my beliefs, artificially. Resistance is futile. lol

  27. This is alarmist BS. I say anything that makes my kids safer is a good thing. Folks, think of the positives. We could prevent ALL crimes before they are committed. Any teen guy with a private sexual fantasy could be detected and questioned before he does something inappropriate with a female he will regret for the rest of his life. Productivity in the workplace will skyrocket as daydreaming and even mental pauses can be detected and eliminated. Mass shootings and terrorism will be a thing of the past. What this comes down to is, if you love a safe, crime free and highly productive society and you have nothing to hide, this technology offers far more good than bad.

  28. This will kill the future. If imagination and creativity are tracked it's better to die than to live a life with no privacy. Inventions and discoveries should not even be thought about. This must just not happen

  29. We need a way to encrypt our thoughts and counter what tech could be used to read our thoughts. As far as marketing and inventing, what about the possibility of thought plagiarism?

  30. There should be no consequence to thought, but what of data and statistics that predict bad things will happen as a result of certain thoughts with high probability? In that case, I'd say a group could intervene to covertly "correct" someone's disposition before they do something that might hurt others. But who would oversee such a group? Who watches the watchmen? Corrupt people will use this to their advantage, policing those with a difference of opinion. This is happening now, with restrictions on free speech and free thought in American college campuses.

  31. I intentionally mean to be rude about this…It's not Iran who's the problem you moron and This Woman hasn't got an F)(&(*& what technology the Western Military along with their Intelligence agencies are ALREADY USING… These Leaps and bounds and Brain decoding technology have ALREADY BEEN MADE and as far back as at least a decade ago… You don't need ANY HARDWARE to be able to lock on to a target and invade their Brain Activity plus a whole lot more… My FEATURE FILM documentary is coming this year and the first to be made by an authentic Targeted Individual and not one helping to cover up the use of this in human technology.

  32. YouTube knows everything about me … My deepest thoughts and memories show up as recommended Videos on my feed ..it’s awfully terrifying

  33. Mind reading is unclothing the soul. It is strip searching the soul, and is an abomination of the Bible in Deuteronomy 18. That scripture describes many types of mental whoredoms, that was prevalent at the time in Satan's kingdom. Things such as mental necromancy, and other forms of witchcraft using the mind. Our sins were paid for by Jesus on the cross. He took our sins and His head bled for all our mental filth. So we cleanse our minds and ask for forgiveness by praying to God through Jesus for forgiveness. For others to access the mind without your consent is rape. And it is the attempt of someone else forcibly trying to be your god without your consent. This is what the choice of taking the mark of the beast is about in the Book of Revelation. Here, with this kind of technology, they are taking away people's free will of the soul. Personally, I believe that this is why Christians all over the Internet are telling everyone a rapture event will happen. To spare people from this, because God created the soul, and would be a showcase of His power, that the soul belongs to Him. That He created the soul. The slogan of the devil is "Naked Bodies, Naked Minds." It is a move back to the Garden of Eden where he wants to rule. That is why he is pushing people to pose nude all over the Internet. Clothe yourself, clothe your mind with the righteousness of Christ.

  34. She has way too much faith in people and government. It is far more likely that brain scans will be used in the womb to eliminate the person before they have too many thoughts that are at odds with being worker bees.

  35. These mind-reading devices will also one day fight corruption, with access to our minds and memory they’ll be able to know what we did wrong in our lives and if deemed important like some sort of crime report them to the police or perhaps reveal our wrongdoings to the persons affected, it’ll be a world without lies and deceptions anymore, a fully transparent world!

  36. By the way, if you are dissatisfied with google's privacy protections, switch to ecosia.org for your search engine. ecosia.org does not share data, does not save searches, does not store search history, and also uses its profits to plant trees.

  37. Fear mongering about Iran. Should be more concerned about our own government. We're the ones getting the 5g grid

  38. The only way to save your privacy is to unplug from the Matrix and go Amish. Live off the grid and you'll also live longer and healthier lives away from constant distractions in the digital world though the government makes that harder by the day with phone booths being removed and soon libraries being closed down due to low use. Scary stuff

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