In "Black Mirror," a Netflix series about a futuristic world moved by high-tech, scientists have found a way to peer inside human minds -- to surveil their thoughts to separate truth from lies.
Well move over, TV watchers.
This scenario is now a case of fiction finding reality.
Real-life scientists are engaged in constructing some artificial intelligence algorithms that can pretty much do just that -- see into a person's mind and determine what's being thought.
What's more, they're making gains.
In January, Venture Beat blared this headline: "Black Mirror's mind-reading tech could be here sooner than you think."
The headline came after four Japanese researchers -- Guohua Shen, Tomoyasu Horikawa, Kei Majima and Yukiyasu Kamitani -- released on the scientific peer platform BioRxiv a report about how they used artificial intelligence to decode test subjects' thoughts.
They called their process "deep image reconstruction," which is really quite different from most of the previous science-based, mind-reading approaches that have used MRI scans to record brain activity and piece together the pixels in image with various, albeit tepid, results.
As CNBC put it: "Machine learning has previously been used to study brain scans ... and generate visualizations of what a person is thinking when referring to simple, binary images like black and white letters or simple geographic shapes."
But these Japanese researchers have gone beyond. They've tapped into AI to decode images with colors and shapes and objects -- complexities of the imagination.
Not all are the reviews are glowing.
Next Shark, the so-dubbed "Voice of Global Asians," reacted with this rather bleak headline: "Japanese Scientists Just Used AI to Read Minds and We Are Scared AF."
Should we be? Should we be scared as freak about mind-reading technology?
After all, this is just media hyperbole aimed at selling news, right?
Well, yes and no. It's not as if scientists have developed some sort of magic elixir or precise formula to peer into minds and know, a la telepathy, exactly what's going on in there.
But they did take some rather startling steps toward that goal. Moreover, they show no signs of quitting until mind-reading becomes a reality. Bluntly put: They'd really like to achieve that goal.
Mary Lou Jepsen, a former Google and Facebook official who left to start her own company, has vowed to develop a technology hat that will make telepathy possible -- all within the next few years.
Researchers tied to Harvard University have been busy for years trying to develop technology that transmits information from one person's brain to another, over distances of thousands of miles. Heads up: They've touted success in one test between individuals located in India and France.
"We are using technology to interact electromagnetically with the brain," physicist Giulio Ruffini said to AFP, during a breakthrough moment way back in 2014.
Entrepreneur and Kernel CEO Bryan Johnson, meanwhile, has been pushing his team of neuroscientists and engineers to develop a computer chip with downloadable abilities that can be implanted into a person's brain.
The possibilities for societal benefit are certainly enticing. For instance, how about a brain chip that can read a comatose patient's thoughts and imagery, allowing doctors and medical professionals to prescribe treatment accordingly? Or a telepathic hat that can translate over long distances and locate for police, say, a missing or abducted child? An Alzheimer's patient, perhaps?
Still, the imaginations of one's own mind, in this day and age of growing surveillance and ever-increasing data collection, may very well be the final frontier for individual privacies.
Take that away, and not only will we have a society with the capability to see all the videotaped actions of its citizens -- not only will we have a society with ability to track, record and read all the social media postings of its people, and tap into all the smart phone conversations of its residents. But we'll also have a society where keeping one's mouth shut may not even matter because thoughts will be public, available for anyone with the right computer software, or the latest commercially sold technology product, to see or hear.
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Image credit: iStock/Artist's Concept.