Penny for your thoughts? You’re underselling

Edwyn Collins once sang: ‘Here’s a penny for your thoughts, incidentally, you may keep the change.’

These transactions could be taking place if a new prototype from Dartmouth College develops in disturbing ways. It’s a brain to mobile phone interface. The paper they’ve published demonstrates a way of dialling phone numbers via a ‘P300 brain potential... elicited when the flashed photo matches the person whom the user wishes to dial.’

Sounds funky - but at this stage I find it hard to see an advantage in having to look through all your friends pictures to locate the one you want, to then ‘brain-spike’ on it to dial (words mine, no doubt technically inaccurate).

Still you can see that the marketing possibilities are endless. And where could it lead?

Once again I have to hold my hands up and admit I saw this first on Nicholas Carr’s ever-interesting blog. And, as some of the commenters below the piece clearly feel, this could be scary stuff. Mr Carr focuses on the real-time aspects of this sort of innovation, but it made me think about personal liberties, privacy, new forms of spam, brain to wallet marketing...

We think we have it bad now because Google and Amazon can taste profile us and try to flog us other stuff - in the latter’s case based on searches you’ve done on behalf of your aunty, so they are misled into thinking you have an interest in gardening.

So here’s where you may be able to monetize your thoughts (or someone will...) as explained by Carr:

‘(the authors) note, at the end, that "sniffing packets could take on a very new meaning if brain-mobile phone interfaces become widely used. Anyone could simply sniff the packets out of the air and potentially reconstruct the 'thoughts' of the user. Spying on a user and detecting something as simple as them thinking yes or no could have profound effects. Thus, securing brain signals over the air is an important challenge."’

So now we need AVG Antivirus for brains.

The full paper is here: http://sensorlab.cs.dartmouth.edu/pubs/neurophone.pdf

Enjoy, then get very scared, then wonder who ‘packet-sniffed’ those thoughts...

Comments (3)

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  • 1
    Ernest Warman wrote on 5th Sep 2010

    Remember Rowan and Martins laugh in where one character had the catch phrase "very interesting but stupid" Not that this is stupid but....
    If we see a picture of some one that we strongly dislike will a brain spike be generated to dial ? Equally if we see a picture of some one that fills us with passion or lust will the phone go pop? Brain waves and pictures is a very complex subject. Push a little button works wonders.

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  • 2
    Steve Howlett wrote on 8th Sep 2010

    Perhaps life is in the process of evolving from the substrate of carbon to silicon...

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  • 3
    Manimarpan Kavashgar wrote on 11th Sep 2010

    We have to be more realistic , decoding brain waves :) really scary

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About the author

Brian is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.

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