Leaders from around the world recently convened at Davos, Switzerland to discuss new technologies and plans for the near future.
Among the speakers was a futurist and ethicist who promoted the use of neurotechnology that would allow employers, governments, and others to decipher brain activity in unprecedented ways.
“What you think, what you feel: It’s all just data,” stated Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke Law School and faculty chair of the Duke MA in bioethics and science policy. “And large patterns can be decoded using artificial intelligence.”
Critics claim that the integration of this technology in the workplace will result in employees being treated like cattle, constantly monitored and prodded by their employers to maintain productivity. The technology would leave no room for privacy as it would be able to access employees’ thoughts and emotions. Employers would have insight into their workers’ political beliefs, deepest fears, and work habits. Individuals could face criminal investigations solely based on their brain activity data. Hence, it is feared that brain-reading technology has the potential to be highly dangerous and threaten people’s freedom.
In her presentation on January 19th, entitled “Ready for Brain Transparency?“, Farahany shed light on the workings of the brain.
She explained that when individuals think or feel emotions, neurons in the brain fire, releasing electrical discharges.
These discharges create distinctive patterns as thoughts take shape and can be interpreted using EEG (electroencephalography) and AI-powered devices.
The result is a decoding of hundreds of thousands of firing neurons.
The speaker stated that wearable neurotechnology, such as EEG sensors within ear pods, will usher in a new era where brainwave activity is continuously monitored while using the device for activities like conference calls and listening to music, as opposed to implanted neurotechnology like Neuralink
Farahany launched her talk with the following series of imaginative scenarios showcasing the potential uses of wearable neurotechnology, which she referred to as “Fitbits for the brain”:
- A scenario where an office worker monitors her stress levels as a deadline looms. Upon noticing an unusual trend, she sends her readings to her doctor for evaluation. The employee’s anxiety dissipates as she begins to daydream about a male colleague. Suddenly, an alert pops up on her desktop reminding her to avoid office romances, causing her to snap back to reality and focus on work.
- Her boss, who is also monitoring her brainwaves, recognizes her prompt obedience and rewards her with a bonus.
- The next day, her colleague is arrested for wire fraud based on his mental activity, and the police soon scrutinize the mental wavelengths of other office employees to search for possible accomplices.
To address the issue of distracted driving accidents on the road, Farahany proposed equipping truck drivers with hats featuring embedded electrode sensors. These sensors would measure the driver’s level of alertness at any given moment, with the goal of preventing accidents caused by distractions.
Farahany says that technology is already here to make this a reality. All that is left is to figure out how to implement it in the workplace.
Currently, there are earbuds, headphones, and behind-the-ear tattoos that can detect and interpret emotional states and extract mental images of faces, shapes, and numbers.
Many leaders believe that the adoption of brain-reading technology may be coming very soon.