“I’ll rip the secrets from your flesh!” Once the words of a 2004 videogame character, now soon to be the MO of a government near you. Researchers in Texas Tech University have discovered a way to use an electroencephalogram (EEG) to glean your identity just from scanning your brain waves. But more than just knowing who you are, this machine can really know just exactly WHO you are…
Security researchers Abdul Serwadda and Richard Matovu experimented with a set of EEG authentication systems to attempt to learn personal information from anonymous brainwave scans. Using the increasingly-popular system of machine learning, the researchers compared new brainwaves scans to those of a group of known alcoholics. The machine successfully identified 25% of people who identified themselves as alcoholics in the new sample.
“We weren’t surprised” said Serwadda. “We know the brain signal is so rich in information,”
Now, 25% might not seem like a very reliable result, but one must consider that these were the findings of a nascent machine learning system still with so much more to learn about the brainwaves it analyses. Once it has a few lessons under its boots, systems like this could learn a hell of a lot more about you from your brainwaves alone.
Some have pointed out the potential medical benefits of such a device, and I can only weep only at their innocence. Technology like this is at best going to be another vehicle of capitalism as brainwave-enhanced targeted advertising makes its way to our computers. Taken less optimistically, things get dark, fast. How long before brain scans become a mandatory part of the employment process? How long before the religions, sexualities, medical conditions and political views of its subjects become something our governments feel entitled to? The choking tendrils of surveillance have been tightening for years, and a "breakthrough" like this could well spell danger for the more vulnerable among us. It certainly won't be used to help any of us, that's for damn sure.
You might think that’s a bit far-fetched; and right here, right now, it is. But brainwave scanners are already creeping their way into everyday life, with brainwave monitors for the purpose of sleep aid already adorning the bedsides of the moneyed (and, of course, there is also an app for that!). It’s only a matter of time before brainwave scanners become more ubiquitous in our lives, no doubt sold on the premise of “health” and “wellness”.
So, lest you have all future employers able to dig up every irrelevant things about you, and advertisers trying to strip you bare of what precious little you have left, I say avoid these fancy gadgets when they make our way to stores in the future.
And if you ever find yourself tempted to willingly allow a corporation to weasel its way into your mind for “your own good”, just ask yourself what this man would do: