Brains Replace The Phone: A Potential New Reality

Kwame Som-Pimpong
Written by Kwame Som-Pimpong
brains
There’s still a layer of separation between our thoughts and those with whom we interact. In a world where our brains are connected, who owns what? Image: MMG

Imagine your boyfriend from way back in middle school randomly thinking about you one day and sending you a message to see how you’re doing. This happens on Facebook all the time. The difference is that you don’t get a notification in your head — something that could become a reality sooner than later. 

Researchers at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering have been developing BrainNet, a brain-to-brain interface that enables two individuals to send instructions to a third participant via their thoughts on how the participant should move a block in a Tetris game. 

What does this mean?

This demonstration sets the stage for a world where people look at you sideways if they see you pull out a phone when you receive a message. Forget the green bubble iPhone users get when they try to text us Android Outlaws. The new disappointment is seeing a small phone icon exposing your friend as way behind the times. 

Today, our devices are our primary means of connecting with each other over the internet. We text each other, slide in DMs, watch the president tweet instead of work, and more. Yet, there is still a layer of separation between our thoughts and those of the person with whom we’re interacting.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama once made a comment about how folks wouldn’t like to know her every thought. Today, we’ve got filters to type out our thoughts and “delete” and “undo” buttons to help us not make asses out of ourselves. If our brains have the ability to send thoughts straight from the neuron, well, that’s a thought I’m sure has many of you shaking your heads with closed eyes. 

I wrote some time ago about Elon Musk’s Neuralink and how it presents a question of where the line is for intellectual property. 

What could it look like

Imagine how BrainNet could magnify what Neuralink and Elon Musk are trying to do with creating a vehicle for people to not be overrun by artificial intelligence. Through an effective brain-to-brain interface, people would be able to magnify swarm effects, be able to magnify the abilities provided to us by a neuralink, and more. As I’ve written about before, in regards to intellectual property, imagine a brain-to-brain interface would make the determination of original thought, original ideas potentially even more challenging.

What concerns me

While a brain-to-brain interface could be incredibly powerful for magnifying our ability to learn as a species, there are some very real concerns that need to be considered in regards to the development of this kind of technology.

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For one, I’ve written about the intellectual property concerns. Who owns what in a world where our brains are connected and we’re sharing and receiving information from each other at a constant pace? Imagine that this would be incredibly complex to tease apart and I’m-too-fine original ideas and who created them.

Secondly, what does that look like to have the ability to tap into each other’s thoughts? So many people have felt the invasion of privacy of having their credit card stolen, for example. Magnify that by someone stealing a thought or snooping around in your brain. There’s a whole level of cybersecurity that I can only imagine how complex it is to work through to figure out how to navigate those challenges.

Lastly, what impact could this have on our ability to connect with one another on a human level? In the social media age, we’ve seen the extent to which we are able to balkanize ourselves against one another despite the overflow of information that could help us to understand one another better. I worry that being able to operate on a brain level with one another could further amplify our access to information and inability to connect to other people.  

Conclusion

The opportunities that come with new technological advances like a brain-to-brain interface can be extremely invigorating. Yet, I don’t know that we know ourselves well enough to be able to manage your technology like this well. I believe it creates too many opportunities for theft, for influence, and more.

Kwame Som-Pimpong leverages relentless research, a knack for connecting dots, human-centered design approach, and effective communications strategy to help organizations realize their strategic objectives. Over a 10-year career, Kwame has supercharged grassroots political organizing efforts, assessed the effectiveness of U.S. federal agencies, managed an international program, founded a digital media startup, and advised government agencies on delighting their end-users. He earned a BA in Political Science from Davidson College and Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. He can be reached at kwame.som.pimpong@gmail.com.