Mind readers with guns. It’s a natural. US Army Brass are conjuring up a mind-reading method that will have soldiers talking to each other just by thinking. This is a very handy communication channel to have when you are trying to shoot someone. A $6.3 million U.S. Army project to establish the basic science required to build a thought helmet—a device that can detect and transmit the unspoken speech of soldiers in silence. Adam Piore, reporting in Discover Magazine, says it’s “getting closer to battlefield reality. Within a decade Special Forces could creep into the caves of Tora Bora to snatch Al Qaeda operatives, communicating and coordinating without hand signals or whispered words.”
Piore’s point is creepy on a lot of different levels (10 more years?!!), and at first glance doesn’t have much to do with the translation trade, unless you happen to be some hapless Pashtun ‘terp caught in an enfilading fire without your thought helmet. (Screaming remains optional.) But this emerging technology has major implications for the way we will communicate in the future. The brief renaissance of the written word introduced by the limits of HTML on the Web will soon pass, as we search for the easiest channels of communication.
So, if you think about these artificial telepathy as a business, which it is, telepathy Caves of Tora Bora are just seed money. You don’t have to be a mind-reader to image that any researcher thinking telepathy is thinking about where to find the big money. Sure, helping the disabled is another revenue stream, and certainly better at keeping the old karma wheel spinning in the right direction. But the gigabucks will be in consumer telepathy. A personal brain jack will be a must-have. Those without will be practically helpless against the collective mind of us all with a permanent mindjack into Facebook. If manufactured by Apple, that sleek little telepathy helmet will be bigger than botox, the essential accessory of assimilation.
OK, full disclosure: The sky has not yet fallen. Here’s the state of the art. The search for a thought helmet begane for Colonel Elmar Schmeisser, a noted Karate scholar with a doctorate in the physiology of vision, who has wanted a thought helmet ever since he read “Skylark of Space” in eighth grade.
“The goal is to build a helmet embedded with brain-scanning technologies that can target a specific brain wave, translate them into words and transmit those words wirelessly to a radio speaker, or into the earpeice of another soldier.”
In addition to “Skylark,” Schmeisser was later inspired by the work of Gerwin Schalik, a biomedical scientist at Albany Medical College. Schawlik is an expert on brain-computer interfaces, who thinks brain signals can be extracted from craniums without the muss and fuss of deeply planted brain electrodes. In the future. Right now they have to surgically remove the top of a subjects skull and place electrodes directly on the surface of the naked cortex to get their brain reading up to snuff. (Its not as bad as it sounds. These patients are getting their brains mapped for life-saving surgery to control severe epilepsy. The brain recording is done voluntarily during the procedure.)
Each patient was given a list of 36 simple words–bat, boat, etc., with orders to imagine saying them instead of actually spitting it out. During the brain readings, imagined words left the motor cortex in the dark, but the auditory cortex and Wernicke’s area were active just as if the words were spoken.
Another team, lead by Mike D’Zmura, a cognitive scientists at UTC Irvine, have been testing an EEG cap to listen in on brain signals, no brain surgery required. While the scalpel-free technology is a lot handier on the battlefield, D’Zuma’s team only achieved 100% accuracy with the dots and dashes of morse code. Even the simpelist of imagined commands can be deciphered only about 50% of the time.
So a way to go yet. I’m surprised that this kind of research hasn’t created more of a stir, since the implication seems staggering to someone like me who squandered his youth reading SciFi. Karate Colonel Schmeisser isn’t afraid of threats to privacy or mind control, since the process only works if completely voluntary, (you’ve got to imagine saying the word for the current system to work and any device will take a long period of training to get inside a partcular head. If you don’t want your mind read, think silently. It’s that easy to turn off.) It’s completely voluntary. What could possibly go wrong? We will choose to let them into our heads, just like we do everytime we whil away 15 seconds on an a youtube advert to watch a 30 second cat video.
I own telepathic powers are telling me that the Colonel doesn’t get it. Only a martial arts master who has not yet been assimilated by the collective would say anything as clueless as that. Resistance is futile. Once they go Borg, they never go back.