Gear

Now There's a Device That Can Literally Read Your Mind

Thanks to Some MIT Researchers, Who Seem Determined to Turn You Into a Machine

By Sam Eichner ·
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In case you required any more evidence that man was rapidly merging with machine, some decidedly post-humanist researchers at MIT have developed a device that can hear the words you say in your head and spit them out onto a computer.

The little white device looks not unlike a headset, only slightly creepier. And, according to MIT, it can measure neuromuscular signals that get triggered when you subvocalize (science-y jargon for “speaking to yourself in your head”), via electrodes, then sends those signals to a computer that uses neural networks to distinguish words. Right now, it’s mostly performing simple tasks, like navigating a Roku and making chess moves for a player who sits in complete silence.

As someone who writes things for a living, it seems only natural that the most reasonable application for this technology is a kind of subvocal dictation, wherein your thoughts, articulated or not, could be translated from your mind to the page, absent the inherent mediating force of your fingers. Perhaps it would usher in a revival of literary modernism—a central tenet of which was a striving towards a greater psychological realism, reified in stream-of-consciousness, free verse and the like. James Joyce, it seems, was born a century to early.

But what would the downsides of tech like this be? Do we really want a device capable of translation our innermost thoughts? Isn’t the natural filtration process between thinking something and expressing something that’s critical to both humankind and civil society? If technology can invade our most personal, private space—our minds—does it not diminish who we are as people? 

Obviously, there are exceptional cases where this device would be useful. As the researches noted, it would make sense for special ops forces to be able to communicate without speaking. And naturally, it would allow those who physically cannot verbally communicate to do so. 

But I, for one, hope it doesn't go mainstream. New advents in technology, from apps that can hail a car, to same-day delivery, to online dating, have ironed out so many of the wrinkles of our everyday existence. At what point do these services, devices and apps, in making our lives easier, rob us of the complexities that make life worth living at all?

Sam Eichner likes literature, reality television and his twin cats equally. He has consistently been told he needs a shave since he started growing facial hair.

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