Mind-reading blitz

Published 10:33 am Thursday, September 11, 2014

Will Auguste Rodin’s statue “The Thinker” start wearing aluminum foil on his head?

According to Britain’s “Daily Mail,” history was made on March 28, as an international team of neuroscientists and robotics experts achieved “mind-to-mind direct technological communication” — what laymen would call telepathy.

(I note that some redundancy-prone people still refer to “MENTAL telepathy.” I guess that’s to avoid adjective confusion with “stylish pump telepathy,” “gluten-free telepathy” and all the other variations.)

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Whatever you’re now picturing about the experiment is probably wrong. We’re not talking about a psychic revealing your innermost thoughts or two science-fiction characters with microscopic brain implants chatting away. The complicated experiment involved powerful computers, robots and an EEG (electro-encephalograph) cap. A young man in India concentrated hard for a long time and sent the words “hola” and “ciao” via the Internet nearly 5,000 miles to receivers in France.

The two words took 70 minutes to transmit and convert. The process has been described as “impractical” and “clunky.” (I’m sure prices will come down, but the phrase “A penny for your thoughts” should be replaced with “A gazillion research dollars for your thoughts.”) Right now the biggest use for the technology is sending bulletins such as “Snail stampede!!!”

Yes, the transmission sounds like a rather puny achievement to Joe Sixpack; but then think about Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” comment. Now 45 years later the moon is a thriving…I mean, the Martian surface is jam-packed with…uh, even without an EEG, I know what you’re thinking: “Bad example!”

One of the lead scientists on the project admitted that it will probably be 20 years before there are practical applications for the technology. And then we won’t NEED it, because I can TELL you what people will be thinking in 20 years: things such as “Why didn’t anybody WARN me that Social Security was in trouble?” and “That facelift worked! Brad and Angelina just adopted Larry King!”

Telepathy will bring an abundance of frivolous applications, but it could work wonders for stroke victims and extreme paraplegics. It might even allow coherent communication for coma patients, soldiers in the din of battle, Vice President Joe Biden, etc.

The technology could profoundly impact civilization for both bad and good. We need to start drawing up new legal protocols, codifying our privacy rights and preemptively debating the serious ethical implications. And update our nuclear arsenal in case someone cheats at International Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Look for a further dumbing down of etiquette. Instead of dutifully typing a forced email , little Jimmy will now send grandma a mental “thank you.” (“Hi. I realize you’re probably on the potty now, but I wanted to say something about that sweater you sent. Whatever.”)

Can we stop people from broadcasting their innermost thoughts? Isn’t it enough to recognize someone’s stupid grin without verifying that they have the Emergency Broadcast System alert (EEEEEEE) between their ears? Aren’t some people insufferable enough without our being bombarded with mental Bragging Christmas Cards 365 days a year?

Proponents of the technology believe it will usher in a new era of empathy. But the people who can’t process facial expressions, body language and verbal hints now will still be just as lost. (“She’s thinking something about how I ought to pay half the rent and do half the chores. Doggone, I wish her messages weren’t so ambiguous!”)


Tyree welcomes reader email responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” His weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.