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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- Adams, Douglas. "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe." Pan Books Ltd. London. 1980.
- 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
- Quick, Darren. "Brain-to-brain communication over the Internet." Gizmag. Oct. 6, 2009. (March 29, 2010) http://www.gizmag.com/brain-to-brain-communication/13055/
- Science Daily. "Brain-Computer Interface Allows Person-to-person Communication Through Power of Thought." Oct. 6, 2009. (March 29, 2010) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091006102637.htm
- The Southampton Brain-Computer Interfacing Research Programme. February 2008. (March 29, 2010) http://www.bci.soton.ac.uk/index.html
- University of California. "Scientists to study synthetic telepathy." UC Irvine Today. Aug. 13, 2008. (March 30, 2010) http://today.uci.edu/iframe.php?p=/news/release_detail_iframe.asp?key=1808
- University of Southampton. "Communicating person to person through the power of thought alone :: University of Southampton." Oct. 6, 2009. (March 29, 2010) http://www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2009/oct/09_135.shtml
- Vlasto, Tim. "Study proves brain to brain communication through power of thought alone." The Examiner. Oct. 7, 2009. (March 29, 2010) http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-11705-NY-Holistic-Science--Spirit-Examiner~y2009m10d7-Scientists-prove-brain-to-brain-communication-through-the-power-of-thought-alone