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 monetise 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.

Read the full paper

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

About the author

Brian Runciman 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.