Earlier this week we asked if the new Kinect 2 technology could read our lips. Well, now The Economist is telling us there might be something even more fun, or perhaps more sinister, on the horizon. Using a functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) machine in unique and interesting ways, the magazine reports that three new research papers have developed plausible methods to examine our dreams, reconstruct moving images that we are observing, and even be able to tell what we are thinking about. The consequence of the third study, they suggest, is the most ambitious but least well define. But the conclusion is clear: “mind-reading, then, has become a reality.”
The implications of these studies are legion. A corresponding editorial raises some possibilities:
Just imagine the potential benefits. Such a development would allow both the fit and the disabled to operate machines merely by choosing what they want those machines to do. It would permit the profoundly handicapped-those paralysed by conditions such as motor-neuron disease and cerebral palsy-to communicate more easily than is now possible even with the text-based speech engines used by the likes of Stephen Hawking. It might unlock the mental prisons of people apparently in comas, who nevertheless show some signs of neural activity. For the able-bodied, it could allow workers to dictate documents silently to computers simply by thinking about what they want to say. The most profound implication, however, is that it would abolish the ability to lie.
The Economist is understandably worried about the type of state power that could be exercised in such a distopian sci-fi scenario. But many of their hopes for assisting the disabled could also have interesting connections for the world of videogames. Could games be used for cognitive and emotional therapy to support the type of physical rehabilitation the article mentions? It is hard to imagine the Kinect 3 offering full fMRI functionality at this point. But what sort of videogame would a game be if you could play it with your mind?