Will we ever be able to communicate with only our minds?

Your Thoughts Are Showing

Professor Kevin Warwick poses on a Dalek and holds a tiny RF chip he had surgically implanted in his arm.
Professor Kevin Warwick poses on a Dalek and holds a tiny RF chip he had surgically implanted in his arm.
David Kampfner/Getty Images

There are several practical and ethical problems to consider in regard to thought-based communication. One is that any system will require subjects to undergo extensive training to work properly. How can you send specific thoughts while protecting others? You wouldn't want to broadcast every thought you had to the world at large. We'll need to design a system that is easy to control to keep communication clear and private.

Once humans have the ability to send thoughts, we'll also need to worry about the possibility of people designing system to snoop on conversations. Spying will take on a new element. And then there's the frightening possibility of thought police -- a concept found in many science fiction novels. What protections would need to be in place to keep spies from looking in on our thoughts?

Since these systems all require a brain-computer interface, there are other ethical issues to consider. A comprehensive system might require you to undergo surgery. You may need sensors implanted in your scalp or even in your brain. This raises concerns about safety -- is it medically responsible to implant sensors into a patient? Assuming the patient isn't suffering from paralysis or some other problem that prevents him or her from speaking, should a doctor perform such surgery?

What about people who don't want to have sensors implanted in their heads? Or people who don't want to communicate through thought? Will people who choose not to adopt this technology fall behind? Will the human race separate into two different species -- cyborgs and traditional humans? And could that lead to even bigger problems? Could we actually experience a communication gap?

Right now, it's impossible to answer these questions. And because the technology is still in its infancy, we have many years to debate the issue and possibly work out solutions in advance.

Learn more about communication and technology by following the links below.

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  • Ahmed, Murad. "Scientists hail a thoughtful future with 'brain-to-brain communication.'" Times Online. Oct. 15, 2009. (March 29, 2010) http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article6875197.ece
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