AI Mind-Reading and the End of Privacy

A recent article concerning artificial intelligence written by Adam Jezard and published on the World Economic Forum website delineates how scientists working in the field of AI are developing technology linked to functional magnetic resonance machines which measure brain activity that can be linked to deep neural networks in the brain – those which can actually replicate human brain functions. Although, in relation to this recent rather astounding development, newspaper headlines around the world began to scream out that AI can now read minds, this is not entirely the case. In fact, a better description of what is taking place, according to Jezards’ reporting, would be a “reconstruction of a visual field algorithm,”

This means that although computers cannot yet able to anticipate what we are going to think, feel, and desire, by using the program referred to in the article, they can actually decipher images of what objects people may be looking at or in certain limited circumstances reveal what they are thinking. However, in one recent report from Japan’s ATR Computational Science Laboratory and Kyoto University, there was a program developed that not only recognizes images, such as artificial shapes, but likewise reconstructs new images from brain activity. That is, not simply images that have been previously fed into a computer program, but images that it had not yet been trained to recognize.

At the same time, according to Jezard’s article, scientists as Carnegie Mellon University in the US. claim to have gotten a step closer to actual “mind reading” by using algorithms to decode brain signals that can identify deeper thoughts and even whole phrases of words that they have not been previously trained to recognize. In addition researchers who are familiar with this technology say that it is able to understand complex events expressed as sentences and based on a certain understanding of people, places, and actions, can predict what types of thoughts may be contemplated by certain people in relation to them.

For those of us who value not only our privacy, but also the integrity of our individual selves, this particular technology might appear to be especially troubling. Already, with the intrusion of the Internet and social media into all our lives, we have lost an extraordinary amount of privacy related to the integrity of our individual selves. That is, the particulars of our lives, even those which are the result of complicated social dynamics that might not be so easily understood by those who don’t know us, are now on full display for nearly everyone to see. Yet, at the same time, the one place which is still our private domain, that which is a significant part of our personal integrity, is that which exists in the privacy of our thoughts.

Yet if that begins to disappear amidst the possible mind-reading technologies of AI, it seems possible that that sacred space within us, that in which our private thoughts and feelings exist, will likewise begin to disappear. The late, great social critic Neil Postman said many times that when some new technology comes into the world, we need to ask ourselves two prescient questions: What current problems does it solve, and what new problems does it create? It would appear, more than ever now in an age in which reality itself is becoming increasingly virtual, that in relation to A.I. we seriously consider these two important questions.

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