Facebook Wants To Read Your Mind, Literally

Facebook is now funding research into reading the signals produced by your brain. Calling this a disaster would be sugarcoating it.
zuckerberg f8 keynote

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivering a keynote presentation at the Facebook Developer Conference

Facebook may have just been fined $5 billion for misleading users about how their data would be used by its platform, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to abandon its investment into a new headband capable of translating the blood flow in your brain into commands computers can understand. Their goal? To make it so effortless to use the tools and apps tools they own, you only need to think about it, another in its attempts to survive younger generations’ attempts to escape its model of social media.

Now, realistically, there’s pretty much no way that any tech conglomerate would ever be able to actually record and analyze your inner monologue for monetization because we’re still not sure how to actually read thoughts the way we usually imagine it’s done in sci-fi movies and Facebook is certainly aware of this. However, if it can understand what you want to type into its inputs, it can save this information for further use, just like it does already with things its users type but never actually post.

In this context, a brain-reading wearable would give the company a glimpse into what you’re thinking about typing but never do, allowing it to get a better picture of your impulses and motivations, and negating attempts at self-censorship. A wearable like this couldn’t pick up a stray thought, but if you wanted to respond to something enough to trigger intense activity in your speech motor cortex, Facebook will know your initial thoughts on the subject and can then use the information to offer advertisers even more refined targeting options.

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So far, the research itself has been focused on looking at information collected by implanted electrodes in the brains of patients undergoing brain surgery to better understand how those signals could be detected by wearable electronics, and the collected data is hardly a peek into the test subjects’ deepest, darkest secrets. Likewise, the resulting technology is going to be of tremendous value to patients who suffered from brain and nervous system trauma who could now communicate and control machines to help them take better care of themselves, so the technology itself certainly shouldn’t be frowned upon in principle.

But it does seem very disconcerting that a company infamous for playing fast and loose with its users’ data and cyberstalking them by exploiting loopholes in voluminous terms of service after promising to do better again and again and always failing to do so, is involved in any sort of research with the potential to glimpse inside our minds. The technology by itself is valuable and important enough to get interest from many other investors so it’s not as if this work would never happen without Zuckerberg’s largesse, and the fact that no rule governing how and by whom this sort of experimental data could be used should raise a lot of red flags for scientists, regulators, and the public.

If Facebook’s existing platform is already prone to widespread abuse, misuse, and exploitation by scammers, trolls, and propagandists, can you imagine the kind of havoc these bad actors could wreak if given the chance to buy a glimpse into what we might really think, even if we never actually share those thoughts with anyone else? It’s a recipe for disaster, and of all the companies that could be involved in brain-machine communication research, Facebook, with its short-sighted and shallow thinking, and utter inability to understand the implication of how its actions can backfire or take actual responsibility and improve when they do, is by far the worst. Their funding isn’t helping researchers, it’s tainting their work in the public eye, and with good reason.

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Politech // Facebook / Social Media / Technology